Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2011
Democratic governments have been grappling with the issue of the rule of law and terrorism long before the Northern Ireland crisis, and they continue to do so after September 11, 2001, and the more recent terrorist acts in Britain and Spain. However, Britain had to deal with a very specific form of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, from a very specific group, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), from 1922 to 1998. To complicate matters, this confrontation was managed through the security policy of a decentralized Unionist government in Ulster from 1922 to 1972. In 1998, a major breakthrough was achieved when the Good Friday Agreement was signed establishing a consociational structure of governance for Northern Ireland, and issues that were incandescent from 1969 to 1998 then began to ameliorate. Further compromises on the issues of arms decommissioning by the IRA, police control, and prisoner release during the period from 1998 to 2007, coupled with an emphasis on Islam-based terrorist activities in Britain proper, led to a further winding down of security legislation and the use of the courts in Ulster. Thus, this chapter focuses primarily on the legislation, security activities, and the courts in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998.
Why the years from 1969 to 1998? A full recapitulation of the political conflict in Northern Ireland would require us to go too far back in time, to the early 1600s, and too deep into the complex relationships among land, religion, and power in Ireland in the nineteenth century.