The Provisional Irish Republican Army And The Morality Of Terrorism

This review featured in Democracy And Security. Volume 7 No 3 July-September 2011.

The status of most violent Liberal Democracy in the world is not one that any country or region, unless perversely enamoured to dysfuntionalism, would seek to covet. Yet, somewhere has to get it and for its troubles tiny Northern Ireland, with its population of approximately 1.5 million, has scooped the unwanted award. There, on the northwest fringe of Europe, between 1969 and 1990 the number of people killed as a result of political violence was ‘greater than that in all other European Community countries combined.’ (1).

Despite having accounted for the majority of conflict related deaths, the Provisional IRA ultimately ‘capitulated’ (2) with little to show for its efforts as measured against its stated objectives. In The Provisional Irish Republican Army And The Morality Of Terrorism Timothy Shanahan has set out to evaluate the morality of an IRA campaign that produced little and inflicted much. Employing a number of analytical strands from the methodology of moral philosophy this study locks horns with what the Provisional IRA narrative would state are the facts on the ground of the violent Northern Irish political conflict.

Shanahan considers the application of an analytical moral framework both positive and necessary because, among other reasons, when the IRA formally announced an end to its campaign of political violence in 2005 it issued a statement in which it claimed its armed struggle was entirely legitimate. The IRA failed to mention that the violent strategy it had utilised in pursuit of both a termination of British rule and the reconstitution of Ireland as one political entity had undergone catastrophic failure.

Attempts to mask this failure have been frequently mounted. The former Sinn Fein propagandist and erstwhile IRA member Danny Morrison has persistently argued that while the IRA had not won its armed struggle it had not lost either. But for such an assertion to have merit it would need to be based on the IRA having secured a draw with the British, which it demonstrably failed to attain. For Morrison’s claim to escape being devoid of substance he would need to show at the very minimum two achievements: joint British-Irish authority, which would have attenuated British sovereignty; shared British-Irish policing structures, which would have negated any British claim to be operating as a state in totality in Ireland by depriving it, in Weberian terms, of a monopoly over the legitimate use of force.

None of these conditions are in place. Instead what exists is a de facto and de jure Northern Irish internal solution which leaves British sovereignty over the North of Ireland fire walled against any reconfiguration outside of British state terms and where Britain is the sole arbiter in terms of the ‘legitimate’ use of force.  This outcome is precisely what the Provisional IRA waged a ’long war’ to circumvent. 

Shanahan believed that this type of unwillingness to deal with the resounding failure of the IRA campaign was itself a mindset born of IRA mythologizing which acted as a powerful inhibitor to serious intellectual deliberation. Consequently, as a means to more incisively morally scrutinise IRA violence he opted to prise open the organisation’s myths through a process of interrogation and deconstruction:  ‘A critical examination of the morality of the IRA’s armed struggle is one element of this story that has so far not been fully and truthfully told.’ (3).

This is a strong assertion to be making given the numerous moral critiques that have been made of the IRA’s campaign including those developed and lucidly articulated by the former leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the late Dr Cahal Daly. Explicitly, Shanahan is making the bold claim that his study will make up the deficit. It is an ambitious endeavour which invites the observation that its author may have created his own Mount Improbable.

In his engagement Shanahan employs a number of strands of moral theory ranging from a consideration of whether the IRA campaign ‘can be morally justified according to the criteria of Just War Theory’(4) to a paradigm which holds that it might be morally permissible to violate people’s rights if by doing so it is ‘the only way to prevent even more serious rights violations.’ (5) While he finds against the IRA from these perspectives his critique works best if rooted in his third model, consequentialism, which he applies with considerable dexterity to the stated rationale for the IRA’s warfare.  

Most central to the aforementioned IRA mythology is the concept of necessitarianism. By its logic the IRA’s armed campaign was made necessary by circumstances beyond its control. It fought because all other options were closed off to it. Against this Shanahan argues that there was no compelling reason for the IRA to either come into existence or to fight until 2005: for him the clearest evidence against the necessitarianism of armed struggle lay in both its abandonment and the form that abandonment took. ‘Those who sought to destroy the establishment now aspired to become part of it.’(6).

Even where Shanahan gives some latitude, and limits IRA success to advancing the republican agenda without securing republican goals he is, not unreasonably, forced to conclude that ‘neither Gerry Adams or any other republican spokesperson has provided such a justification.’ (7)

Bluntly stated, the republican agenda fails to find reflection in the Sinn Fein position of today, the leadership of which is hegemonised by figures who directed the IRA’s war. The party has embraced what it long termed an anti-republican agenda. It has become incorporated into a state, which the military dimension of its strategic nexus sought to destroy, on terms which included republicans in government but excluded republicanism from policy. The current arrangement is the British state’s alternative to republicanism. What gains the IRA campaign achieved - which differed from those on offer from the British State via a similar 1974 arrangement that the IRA then rejected - were incremental; a change in form, not content. The consequence of the prolonged IRA campaign, in structural terms, was almost exactly as it would have been for a campaign shortened by twenty years.

Given that heavily limited outcome Shanahan’s study contends that republicans could have put more effort into persuading unionists that a united Ireland was a good option for them to embrace. This is precisely what Sinn Fein is doing today. By embracing the current settlement, which now depends on persuading unionists, the IRA cannot pretend that its wartime opposition to securing unionist consent to Irish unity - insisting instead on coercing unionists through the use of armed struggle - was as principled or as necessary as it claimed.

Clearly, the IRA campaign viewed through a consequentialist lens was hardly worth the candle. Accepting the very terms it fought against cannot justify its strategic choice of armed warfare. ‘There have been few or no benefits produced that could even begin to balance the cost.’ (8)

One persistent problem throughout this study is its working assumption that the IRA was simply a terrorist organisation. In general such a label creates more heat than light. It permits a moral critique of insurgent political violence to be a facile enterprise, easily constructed sans the difficulty involved in establishing the functionality and rigour of moral categories.

To label as ‘terrorist’ a sustained campaign that claimed the lives of more than one thousand of the IRA’s armed state adversaries is the skewed application of moral theory, amplified by the absence of a similar rigour applied to the moral acts of those adversaries. A moral category that a priori chooses one side over another through the application of asymmetrical reasoning will resonate as one hand clapping.

Generally it may be said that the IRA armed struggle was directed against military targets although it did produce numerous civilian casualties. And there were periods in its existence when it did target civilians on the grounds of their religious affiliation. This suggests that during its existence it incorporated terrorist methods without being reduced to a one dimensional terrorist ensemble. 

Even where he considers the merits of rights violations from a rights-based rather than consequentialist perspective the judgemental case Shanahan makes against the IRA for using ‘terrorist’ means is undermined by a certain slippage into endorsement of what may be termed people friendly terrorism.

Acts of terrorism are initially only against the property of members of the group known to be responsible for the rights violations: care is taken to ensure that persons themselves are not injured, maimed or killed by such acts. (9)

The inference to be drawn is that the IRA’s problem lay not in it being terrorist per se but in being too terrorist. Besides possessing a moral dubiousness of its own Shanahan’s proposal seems highly idealistic on top of being practically unachievable. It also begs reflection on the question how those willing to use political violence in such an intelligent, managed and controlled manner would find it beyond their competence to devise a peaceful strategy for achieving their goals.

Moreover, an added deficiency emerges once the argument of Poulantzas enters the fray: ‘if one once starts to use force, the moment eventually comes where no one longer knows whether one will ever stop using it’. (10)  In framing a moral critique Shanahan has left himself open to the charge that he has fashioned a moral dilemma that he has no means of resolving. 

The problems of attaching a one size fits all terrorist label on the insurgency of the IRA are compounded by the conclusions the author draws about the behaviour of the British state and the moral implications which flow from that. How, in a work ostensibly aimed at addressing the morality of the IRA, a much less rigorous and considerably more benign examination of the role of the British state should feature is not adequately explained.

The British state is largely absolved of involvement in terrorism despite strong evidence of its involvement in the targeting of unarmed civilians. Shanahan is much too facilitating of benign interpretations of the role of the British state in this regard, accepting too readily that state terrorism may have been the work of one or two individuals or down to misfortune.  For example while he accepts the events of Bloody Sunday, 1972 - in which 14 rights demanding unarmed civilians were shot dead by the British Army - as cold blooded murder he baulks at defining the act as state terrorism on the grounds that the event was ‘probably’ precipitated by ‘an unfortunate confluence of causes.’ (11)

While making some concession to the case that the British state was an accomplice before the fact the he ignores the complicity of the state in cover up and its failure to punish operatives responsible. This is visible in his handling of the vexed question of Loyalist political violence. He dismisses the oft made suggestion that this is state terror via proxy.  State assistance to loyalism is described as ‘sheer carelessness.’ (12) But this is to ignore the critique more often made which is that the British state moulded the conditions which enhanced the probability of loyalist armed actions. It held the ring more often than entered it but it hardly failed to share in any purse that accrued as a result.

There is simply too much evidence available to allow Shanahan’s application of moral theory in a manner that is not even handed to pass as reasonable. He has much too easily accepted the distinction devised by Bruce, whom he cites, between state terror and pro-state terror and in doing so ascribes to armed loyalism a much stronger degree of autonomy than it merited.

Shanahan’s study may have been truthfully if haltingly pursued but the moral categories for fully evaluating the IRA’s use of physical force have not yet been fully put together. And they might never be.  While Shanahan may approvingly cite Camus that ‘even in destruction there is a right way and a wrong way – and there are limits’ (13), he acknowledges that the right way is not a matter of simple choice, and that limits not only exist in respect of destruction but also in how pragmatic considerations set morality-curbing parameters in the realm of strategic decision making:

Moral theory can provide us with insight into what sorts of action are right and wrong but it cannot supply the empirical information so often needed in order to determine in a particular situation which action is right. (14)

But this is not a problem specific to the use of political violence. It affects a wide range of political decision making processes at all levels of society. This implies that any understanding of morality in politically violent conflicts cannot be easily separated out from wider societal questions of rational choice. The discursive construction of “the terrorist” whose actions society cannot morally comprehend creates a being apart from society rather than of it. Those who use political violence don’t set out on the turbulent road with a prescribed moral code which they alone understand,  but, like other political actors, make choices as they move through the labyrinthine world they find themselves inhabiting, all the while responding to the moral actions of others.

The Provisional IRA certainly failed and in terms of consequence it can be argued that its violence was futile. But as a moral actor, choosing violence as its act, it did not conjure itself into existence. Much wider immoralities were at play which are not given due consideration in a work that is both stimulating and intellectually engaging.

(1) Timothy Shanahan, 2009, p 3. The Provisional Irish Republican Army And The Morality Of Terrorism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
(2) Ibid, 2.
(3) Ibid, 10
(4) Ibid, 93
(5) Ibid, 147
(6) Ibid 64
(7) Ibid 133
(8) Ibid 138
(9) Ibid 158
(10) Nicos Poulantzas, quoted in Jessop, Bob, 1985, p. 304.  Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and Political Strategy. London: MacMillan.
(11) Shanahan, op cit, 212
(12) Ibid 202
(13) ibid 224
(14) Ibid, 188

Timothy Shanahan, 2009, The Provisional Irish Republican Army And The Morality Of Terrorism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


  1. I found that most of the arguments that were leveled against the IRA in this book in terms of morality could be leveled with legitimacy against nearly any side in any conflict. Certainly the most "moral" army couldn't pass half the tests.

    It was interesting but deeply flawed.

  2. The news footage of the brutal and degrading execution /murder of Gaddafi has reminded me of the events at Casement park at vol Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh,s funeral and the the events that happened that day which I witnessed first hand, the execution of the two corporals took place just a few days after the attack on the funerals of those volunteers murdered in Gibraltar which left the republican community in a highly charged state, what happened that day was brutal,any violent death is ,but there is an argument however weak that there was justification for that outcome, now what I witnessed on the news today ,other than a blood lust carried out by proxies of the British and American goverments was nothing more than murder and I think that we should expect that those who carried out this foul deed should hounded in the same manner that those who carried out that action on the Andersonstown rd.

  3. Its been said many times before a cara when the bullets start flying morality hits the dirt, no side in any conflict is going to think about the morals of their actions if they are serious about winning,as I think Afghanistan will prove that those who can inflict the most and by any means will win,morals are for times of peace and for people with nothing else to occupy their minds,...

  4. I wonder sometimes what was expected of us?
    Rose tinted spectacles were not the order of the day in our little Northern Statelet.
    The initial IRA violence was totally reactionary. People were arming themselves to protect their families and communities.
    The end did not justify the means but then, who could have possibly envisaged that we would be sold and sold on such a scale.
    I totally agree with Simon, few people involved in any conflict could pass this type of morality test.

  5. Marty mo cara, sorry to say I disagree with you both in relation to the corporals and the morals.
    I don't and I will never believe there was any justification for what happened that day at Casement.
    Like yourself and hundreds of others I was there when Stone opened fire in Milltown and I also attended Kevin's funeral.
    Those soldiers could have been disarmed, stripped and degraded, but there was a blood lust there, a mob rule mentality and it was sickening to watch.
    I know McGuinness and Adams are hell bent on portraying the majority of the Movement as cut throat and lacking moral credence but that was never the case.
    Morals have to brought to bear especially in times of strife or we would just become amoral.

  6. Fionnuala "Morals have to brought to bear especially in times of strife or we would just become amoral."

    Well said.

  7. As I said Nuala it may be a weak argument,but there would have been no way two british agents would have been set free giving the events of the previous few weeks,again on the moral side what makes the Americans and the British so powerfull in their heyday was precisely their lack of morals,the Taliban will kick the Americans out of Afghanistan because they have even less morals.they will do and use whatever it takes to win.war by its very nature is amoral I believe ,so to engage in warfare then morality must be pushed aside orelse one fights with one hand tied behind your back so to speak,and therefore no chance of winning. Marty and Gerry are two examples of people with no morals achieving their ambitions,by just whatever it takes ,

  8. A very interesting article. The Provies were buffeted by a storm of events and improvising and a high degree of intelligence, calm and control was impossible. If it had been then surely Adams would have been a ‘Ghandi’, and he probably would be president of a united Ireland by now!
    From a moral viewpoint, in the minds of most people, the Provies were fuelled by a certain amount of right but no amount of it could excuse many of the things they did.
    War is a fire that can’t be put out and Irish nationalists are lucky it is only glowing embers at the minute with a few fantasists like Michael Campbell keeping it going. On a test range in Lithuania with a rocket launcher? What the fuck was he on?
    The British aren’t so different though on a longer scale. They could look down on the small war in Ireland and control it, but it’s unlikely they will be able to control it forever and the thirst for war they have shown over the centuries may well undo them in the end.

  9. Alan Shatter Dublin Government Minister has been a strident and vocal supporter of the Israeli terror unleashed on gaza which saw the droping of tonnes of explosives on one of the most denseley populated rgions in the world which resulted in the deaths of over 320 children. Shatter has some cheek commenting on the involvement of Martin Mc Guinness in "terror"

  10. Marty,

  11. Just out of interest, Peter Robinson last week,was reflecting on the so called peace talks, at a university in England. He claimed that the DUP where of the opinion, that if the talks failed, they where in no doubt, that joint authority of the north was the plan B off both governments. Gven this, it seems odd that the sinners signed up to somethng, so much less. Why not scuttle the deal, and go for joint authority, which would seem closer to a united Ireland, than what we are left with today?
    Thought it was funny when the fire alarm went off in Stormont during the negotiations. Blair asked Robinson what it was. Robinson replied that it was the lie detector...Theres a sense of humor beneath the grey veneer...

  12. Anthony,

    The fake photo was almost as bad as the viewpoint!

  13. Anthony I completly agree with that article on broken elbow,thanks for that a the meantime its going to be interesting to watch the west passing the buck over this brutal murder, Nuala to continue the talk about morals and war, look at the campaign to ban land mines and in praticular anti personnel mines,these bad boys are designed to injure not kill victims in order to increase the logistical(mostly medical)support required by enemy forces that encounter them ,the logic behind these things is very clever but the morality is nonexistent,the campaign to ban these mines resulted in the Ottawa treaty but Russia ,China,USA,Pakistan,India,have not signed up so this says a lot about the morals of those in power in these countries does it not

  14. David

    southern comments after mcguinness entered the election for president have been very educational. Sickening to listen to a lot of it.

    ghadafi's killing was a disgrace. the gloating over and over on sky news was horrible. some journalists are scum.

  15. Fionnuala,
    I have always felt that a totally different outcome would have occurred that day on the Andersontown Road if it had't been for the events and circumstances in the weeks leading up to it. Maybe I would just like that to have been the case.
    I agree with Marty that the atmosphere that week was highly charged as vol Kevin McCracken was also murdered that week.
    I have always placed it in contrast to the murder of young Seán Monaghan handed over on the Shankhill. Both equally brutal and violent but carried out in a wholly calculated fashion.

  16. Dont thik much of the title- but will defo be reading this one

  17. Robert a cara who was the bigger terrorist B liar or Gaddafi?

  18. The talk on the early news this morning "what to do with Gaddafi,s body" no morals there eh!how about giving it back to his family .

  19. Marty,

    what do you think should have been the outcome? His death was brutal. Set aside all the malign and self serving motives of the West, it seems clear his society rejected him and wanted change. If he had survived what if anyhing in terms of justice should he have faced?

  20. Gaddafi was to involved with the yanks and brits on rendition of suspected militants and there torture he was never getting out alive.

  21. watching the whitehouse gang observing murder live on tv tells us about western morality. uk calling for enquiry on gadaffi killing; that old routine is threadbare. U.N. are trash, identify a target+execute is their function these days.

    if the rebels in libya are anti rendition that would be surprising.

  22. Paedar,
    I think I would have been as emotionally charged as anyone that day. I had known Big Dan all my life and we were also charged together.
    I knew both Maried Farrell and Kevin Brady quite well so I was not detached from the people or the events of that week.
    Like so many other people I had witnessed what had taken place in Milltown cemetery, the trauma and the horror, yet I felt sick to the pit of my stomach at those two deaths, still do.
    I understand your reasoning in relation to Sean Monaghan who suffered an unspeakable cruelty.
    However, I don't think morality in this context can be viewed as a situational concept, I believe it is either in a person or it is not.

  23. Anthony,

    "What do you think should have been the outcome? ... If he had survived what if anything in terms of justice should he have faced?"

    But does anyone deserve being beaten before getting a bullet in the head? Surely the rebels could have shown they were better than Gadafy by treating him humanely and putting him on trial. And it does not exactly inspire trust in the new regime in Libya when they put out the ridiculous claim that Gadafy was killed in "crossfire". Arresting and imprisoning Gadafy would have been a much more potent symbol that things were changing for the better in the Middle East. I say this as someone who supports the Arab Spring and the NATO intervention in Libya.

  24. Alfie,

    I merely posed the question. His beating and death were terrible and without justification. But you answer the question from the point of view of somebody who supports the NATO intervention. The question was addressed to the perspective that opposes NATO's intervention. I just wonder how that perspective would deal with it.

  25. I totally disagree with the contention that Gaddafi was deposed by a popular uprising of the Libyan people. What begun as a legitimate demand for political reform was soon to become a NATO supported insurgency with regime change as the overall objective. At all times there was significant support for Gaddafi and a lot of that support remains even after his death.

    There is a lot of political commentary available that challenges the theory now being postulated that Gaddafi was an absolute tyrant who robbed his people. Using any index Libya tops the list for living standards and provision in that region. With a literacy rate of 83%, free medical care, free education, free housing, free electricity, and so much more, it is clear the wealth generated from the oil was used largely to benefit the people as a whole.

    For forty years the western powers done everything it their power to undermine support for Gaddafi and to bring down his government. They plotted and planned to destroy a regime that they could not control and one that posed a serious threat to their interests in the region. At the first sign of popular unrest America, Britain and France jumped at the chance to get rid of this thorn.

  26. Mackers,
    NATO intervention or cloaked imperialism, I think the latter.
    How come, none of these super powers ever go into the poorer regions of the world to absolve them from tyrannical rule?
    Tyrants only appear to be tyrants in countries where vast wealth can still be accessed.

  27. Anthony I agree with Alfie a cara the summary execution of Gaddafi may speak volumes of the new Libya,he should have be giving the right to face his accusers in a court of law,but maybe there are those who wouldnt want to hear Gaddafi,s side of the story,and made sure he didnt get to tell it.

  28. Marty,

    I think there is much to be said for that.


    I am inherently suspicious of intervention by the West. In principle I could go along with it if it were for the right reasons, like stopping genocide in Rwanda. But it never seems to happen like that.


    I have not followed it to the extent that you have. If his people didn't want him he should have gone. If he was behaving like Pinochet diasappearing and torturing people, he should also have been made to go. The West blurs everything here. How can France claim to be so interested in helping the 'oppressed' of Libya after its appalling role in the Rwandan genocide?

  29. Mackers

    "If his people didn't want him he should have gone"

    This is far from the truth. Gaddafi enjoyed support right across the country and still does. Because of this, I believe, Libya is doomed to a experience continuing civil war. The prerequisite of legitimacy will haunt the NTC due to the major role of NATO in overthrowing the regime.

    Where is the evidence that Gaddafi disappeared people? Ironically, if he did do this then it was at the behest of the western powers in the form of renditions. Most of the allegations against him have yet to be supported by hard facts.

    I believe a day will come in the future when the Libyan people will look back on the Gaddafi era with a sense of nostalgia and regret. The oil pirates and land grabbers will rob the country of its resources and the people will lose all the of the constitutional benefits/rights enjoyed under the 'great dictator'.

  30. Anthony its been said many times before but its the truth,the west always intervine only when it suits their interest ,like the acquisition of oil,had Lybia noting more to offer than carrots then they would have sat by and watched the uprising fizzle out within days.

  31. Alec,

    I haven’t followed it that closely. I do recall that back in March there was a debate in the Nation hosted by Amy Goodman in which two US professors discussed the issue of intervention. Both claimed to be from the Left. Juan Cole defended it while Vijay Prashad opposed it. Both however agreed it was a popular uprising. Prashad, who was very critical of western intervention, said Gadaffi had for long been a reactionary leader. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported disappearances. The accuracy of it all I have no real idea. That is why I said ‘if.’ I have no definitive views on the matter other than I am mistrustful of Western interventions.

    What always annoys me about the West is this is why it never intervened in Rwanda.

  32. In relation to the Gadaffi regime, many republicans and the wider left forget the fact that in the last decade his regime was armed and financed by the west. He opened up his country to western oil companies and his forces to training from western security agencies such as the PSNI and laid of the red carpet for gangsters such as Mr Blair. To be honest I have little sympathy for the way he was finished off as he has shown little sympathy for the innocent victims killed and maimed under his regime. Its just a shame the leaders of the 'free world' were not lined up beside him.

    Sean(Not Organise!)

  33. Organise,

    you make some valid points which also highlight the hypocrisy of the west in their dealings with Gaddafi. Either he was a monster, in which case he should have been totally ostracized, or he was the leader of a country with extensive oil reserves, in which case his sins were wholly forgivable in the bigger scheme of things.

    He was far from a prefect and dictatorial leadership earned him the fear and antipathy of many Libyans. However, I doubt whether those who will replace him will succeed in making Libya a better place.

  34. Mackers,

    I don't have your ability to reference sources but I have come across a lot of credible commentary on the internet that disputes the notion of a 'popular uprising'. I will try to source some of it for you though I doubt whether you have the time to view it.

    Whatever the truth of the matter, there can be no doubting the pivotal role played by the NATO intervention in all of this. Quite simply, Gaddafi would still be in power today were it not for the firepower of NATO. The rebel forces would never have possessed the material nor weapons capability to overthrow him.

    Gaddffi should have did the clever thing by responding positively to the legitimate demands for radical reforms being made by a sizable section to society. His refusal to do so created a volatile situation which presented the perfect opportunity for NATO and others to exploit. After more than forty years of unfettered power he should have stepped down and allowed for a new arrangement.

  35. Alec-

    I think you are right about libya
    it will be a long time before there is peace there or even something close to peace- to many people with guns on the streets- to many children with guns- they won a war against Gaddafi- now they are going to think that the gun will win them new battles- nobody is going to remove the gun from them-

  36. Alec,

    it was less a case of referencing sources than it was having saved the text from way back in March. I was actually more interested in the arguments for and against interventionism than the specifics of Libya per se and kept the piece for later reading.

    To be fair I don't even know the nature of what you said are legitimate demands for reform as I have not watched it closely, only in passing. Some things capture the attention and others don't for whatever reason. If you are right and the demands were legitimate he made a terrible mistake by not moving. Tyrant or not it was not any despotism on his part that got him bombed.

    I simply never trust Western interventionism. You and I both discussed the Rwandan situation - if ever there was a case for intervention it was there. The US and UN did everything to avoid it. France intervened but on the side of Hutu Power who were behind the genocide.

  37. Here is an Irish anarchist analysis of the Libyan situation. Although rather long it is very deatailed and looks at the case for and against intervention and the response from the wider left and republicans. I dont think its as black and white as the debate goes on.

    Sean Matthews

  38. Nuala,

    these moral discussions set the bar. But like yourself I doubt if it can ever be jumped over. Even in the much less trying circumstances of everyday life we can't behave like we might want to, in a way that we know to be ethically right. There are too many constraints and challenges and we simply don't have the fortitude it requires to walk 'morally upright' all the time. I always liked Orwell's take that we want to be good but not too good and not all the time. I think that sums up the most of us. Yet the moral discussion is vital as it allows us to reflect on things and possibly open us up to new ways of looking at things. Because we might consider a moral argument, it does not follow that we can abide by it.

  39. Mackers,
    my da used to say, 'If our sins were written across our foreheads how many of us could seriously point a finger?'
    I for one would have run out of foreheads many, many years ago.
    I do believe however, that even in the most extreme and perplexing circumstances we have to hope that a degree of morality comes to the fore.
    If it doesn't, something less appetizing will quickly fill the void.

  40. Nuala,

    your da was totally right. I think I said to you before that we set up a core position which we hope to stay close to. We can go as far as 49 steps away from it and still be on the right side. 51 steps and we are on the other side. There are no easy choices. Yet you are so right in my view in arguing for a moral perspective. Without it there is only might and anything goes.

  41. Mackers,
    so relieved that I have eventually got something right.
    Knew I would get there in the end!