Addressing the Concept of Armed Struggle

Dr John Coulter is a Radical Unionist commentator and a former columnist with The Blanket. He is currently writing an e-book about republicanism as an outsider looking in. The e-book is entitled An Saise Glas (The Green Sash) The Road to National Republicanism. The chapters are being published exclusively on The Pensive Quill. In this latest chapter, he examines how republicanism must address the concept of armed struggle, both before the 1994 Provisional IRA ceasefire and during the present dissident republican terror campaign.

This chapter is probably one of the most difficult for me as a Radical Right-wing Unionist to write for the simple reason that I have had relatives and friends threatened, maimed and murdered by republican terrorists.

Analysing history, only one viable conclusion can be drawn – republicans have been unable to defeat the British war machine. Armed conflict as a weapon of political agitation is now a spent cause.

The highways and byways of Ireland, north and south, are littered with memorials to dead republicans who either killed themselves when their bombs exploded prematurely, or were shot dead in republican feuds, by the British or Irish Free State forces.

This chapter could deteriorate into a blunt criticism of why republicans murdered people. The key concepts – as a Unionist – which I want to leave with my readers are, firstly, why republicans should no longer use the concept of armed struggle. Secondly, how republicans can commemorate their dead without causing offence.

Republicans must no longer use violence, not primarily because they can never defeat the British in a long war scenario, but because of the effects it will have on an increasingly disaffected loyalist community.
I will be the first to admit as I have written this e-book, that my suggestions and observations can always be dismissed crudely as ‘the hun lecturing the croppies.’ I have never been a republican, am not a republican, and barring Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall ever being crowned Queen of England, I will never be an Irish republican.
Hopefully, republicans will gain from this work how they can avoid more generations of armed conflict. To this end, I am taking a rather unusual approach to republicanism and armed conflict – not from the operations which republicanism deemed successful, but how militant elements within the loyalist community might learn from the violent republican era and return the serve.
Republicans must also need to fully understand how far they can push the political boats out with Unionists, before the loyalists resume their terror activities.

Republicans need to know that a new dissident loyalist terror movement of three-man cells is being formed to attack the police, Sinn Fein, and Parades Commission members, according to as key loyalist strategist.
Speaking exclusively to me for The Green Sash, the loyalist source revealed the cells also planned to attack a future republican parade – preferably a dissident one – with snipers. 

In an equally chilling warning, the loyalist strategist behind the planned movement said that some DUP politicians “who have let the loyalist people down” would also be targets.

Unionism needs strong leadership at this time from the top. We are not getting this from either the DUP or UUP. We need a traditional unionist from the old school of Unionism to lead us.
 We cannot see the point of attacking the Irish Republic as the battle will be in Northern Ireland. There is no point in adopting the republican view that one bomb in London is worth 100 in Belfast. We will get no support if we target places in Great Britain.
The DUP is heading for a downfall because it has lost the discipline at grassroots level. The PSNI cannot live in Protestant areas without the support of the Unionist people.
Referring to the recent 2013 riots around a contentious anti-internment rally in Belfast by republicans, the loyalist strategist said: 

It seemed initially that loyalist tactics were working – flood the centre of Belfast with loyalists and bring the place to a literal standstill. 

But then the police began attacking our people with batons and water cannons. If our snipers have to shoot at the police, they will. 

This is not like the early Drumcree standoffs where many of the police officers were locals and known to people. Many of these riot cops used against the loyalists are from outside Northern Ireland, so we won’t be shooting our own.

Another loyalist source not connected to this new dissident loyalist network had claimed that gunmen armed with M16 automatic weapons were among the loyalist crowd in Royal Avenue ready to shoot republicans if the anti-internment parade made it to the city centre.

There have been unsubstantiated claimed these gunmen were from the banned UVF. During disturbances following that anti-internment parade, more than 50 officers were injured according to PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott. 

The loyalist strategist’s chilling warning sparked memories that the first police officer to die in the past Troubles was 29-year-old Protestant Victor Arbuckle who was shot dead by the UVF in the loyalist Shankill during serious rioting.

The Star source claimed the key pulses of the new loyalist dissident movement would be East Belfast, the Shankill, Whiterock, Carrickfergus and Coleraine. 

Sinn Fein is trying to create a situation whereby dissident republicans fall into line behind the mainstream republican movement. The effect of our campaign will be to bring British troops back onto the streets of Ulster – which is what Sinn Fein certainly doesn’t want.

But the gamble we are taking is that if the Army does come back, would they start shooting at us loyalists?
Loyalism is facing new threats from republicans. Take their Tyrone Volunteers parade. It was always held in a solidly republican area. Now they want to push the barriers that wee bit further by bringing the parade to a Protestant area.

We have to be very careful how we organise as loyalism – like the dissident republicans – has been totally infiltrated by MI5 and MI6. There are people in loyalism who would sell themselves for a pint of beer.
The lone wolf tactic of a single terrorist acting alone, which is favour by the extreme Right, is no use as people are not fully trained. 

The dissident republicans use cells of five members, but these can be infiltrated by the security forces, so we will use cells of three. MI5 and MI6 are now so sophisticated that you can no longer use conventional electronic devices. 

We want to base our network on the Greek terrorist structure – teams of three not known to each other. Even if one cell is taken out, it does not mean the end of the organisation.
This was a reference to the Greek Cypriot terrorist group, EOKA, formed in the 1970s against British rule in Cyprus. EOKA stood for Ethniki Organosis Kipriakou Agnonos, which is Greek for the National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle.

It’s like the honeycomb effect – just because you empty one comb, doesn’t mean the whole honeycomb is emptied. The smaller the cell, the more effective we become. The weakness will always be on how we train a cell. 

Once an overall training network is set up, that’s when it becomes infiltrated by MI5 and MI6.
This is not the first time a dissident loyalist terrorist group has been established. In the aftermath of the original loyalist ceasefire in 1994, the leading Mid Ulster UVF terrorist Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright split from the Belfast-controlled terror group to set up his own Loyalist Volunteer Force.

After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, other dissident loyalist groups emerged including the revamped Orange Volunteers, the Red Hand Defenders, and the Real UFF.
While mainstream loyalists rallied to the banner of the Combined Loyalist Military Command which called the 1994 ceasefires, dissident loyalists formed their own umbrella group called the Protestant Military Alliance. 
Republicans holding commemorations to honour members killed in the conflict is nothing new to Ireland. But in a vastly more media conscious society, they will have to perform these parades with more professionalism and dignity.
The notorious Ardoyne Dander by dissident republicans over Easter has got to be one of the most embarrassing episodes in nationalist history.
What was supposed to be a dignified commemoration to four dead Fianna members turned into a public relations disaster.
This was NOT because of children on parade in supposed paramilitary gear – it was because republicans proved they physically cannot march.
I am a former staff sergeant in the Christian Boys’ Brigade movement where drill was a compulsory part of parade nights. I passed BB exams in square-bashing and I know how to march.
What we witnessed in the Ardoyne was not competent drilling, but a pathetic dander along the road where many of the so-called marchers were out of step with an inability to use their arms.
With major commemorations this year to mark the centenaries of the founding of both the Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers, republicans will need to get their act together if they are not to look like complete tits on parade.
Some in the DUP got their political knickers in a twist because of the young kids in the Ardoyne parade.
Instead of going yapping to the Children’s Commissioner, the DUP should have just laughed off what was one of the most comical parades of the year.
If I was one of those four Fianna members being supposedly honoured, I’d be spinning in my grave with deep fury at the way my name was being made a fool off by modern dissident republicans.
It is no secret that I am a radical Right-wing Unionist, but as a holder of top BB awards such as the President’s and Queen’s Badges, after watching the Ardoyne shambles even I wanted to offer my drilling services to republicans to show them how to parade properly.
If republicans cannot learn to march in step in public, then they should cancel many commemorations to stop becoming the butt of jokes from loyalists.

The Prod Loyal Orders and blood and thunder loyalist flute bands may stage some contentious parades, but at least they can walk in step. Drill is a major component of the Marching Orders and bands.
Ironically, the main blame for republicans being unable to stage a credible parade in terms of marching lies with the Irish Catholic Church.
While the Protestant Churches have the BB and the Girls’ Brigade, both of which major in drill, what youth organisations does Irish Catholicism promote which have an emphasis on square bashing?
Watching the Ardoyne debacle was worse than getting a filling without an anaesthetic. I really felt so sorry for those wee kids. No one seemed to show them how to march before sending them out into the full public glare.
Maybe the Fianna should be revamped with a serious emphasis on drill. What is certain is that republicans cannot continue making laughing stocks of themselves, no matter how justified their parades.
Some of the most embarrassing footage is off the so-called IRA and INLA colour parties at the 1981 funerals of the hunger strikers.
Especially at Bobby Sands’ funeral. Whoever selected the Provo guard of honour to accompany the dead MP’s coffin needed a spell in the BB. Their so-called slow march was diabolical. Some republicans march as if they are stamping on flies.
Unfortunately for republicans, the Sands’ colour party’s antics set the tone for many republican events since.
Love or loathe the late Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher, at least the hundreds of parading Brits could march in step.
I scored 90 per cent in my last drill exam, so do me a favour republicans, if you can’t walk in step, at least hold your shoulders properly. Drill staff sergeant Coulter at the ready to show you how!
The situation came close to boiling point in loyalism earlier this year when Protestant hardliners from the renegade Loyalist Volunteer Force were meeting in Mid Ulster to plan a retaliation for the dissident republican murder of prison officer David Black, well-placed loyalist sources me.
The source said that key Belfast loyalists were also visiting Mid Ulster to “try and calm things down because the LVF was chomping at the bit to hit back”.
The source also claimed top of the LVF hit list was leading Co Armagh dissident republican Colin Duffy who earlier this year was found not guilty of killing two British soldiers in Antrim.
The LVF was formed in the mid-1990s by the UVF’s Mid Ulster commander Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright. He had disagreed with the UVF’s 1994 ceasefire and the socialist direction of its political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party.
Wright was shot dead inside the Maze jail in December 1997 by INLA inmates. After his death, the LVF largely descended into organized crime, especially drugs.
Before forming the LVF, Wright had built his Mid Ulster UVF unit into one of the most ruthless of all the loyalist killer gangs during the Troubles.
The source told me:

It is clear the dissident republicans who killed Mr Black are trying to egg loyalist hardliners disillusioned with the peace process to go back to war.
It is also rather daft to hear British politicians talking about a reduction in activity by the dissident republicans. That was a red flag to a bull and it was inevitable the dissidents would respond with a murder.
I understand loyalists within the Mid Ulster area have already drawn up a list of targets, but people from Belfast are on their way to the area to try and calm things down.
But the reality is that the LVF has become immersed in drug dealing and criminality, but there is the possibility – as in the LVF backlash from the murder of its founder – that a significant terror campaign by dissident republicans could refocus some the loyalist godfathers away from their crime and back onto killing Catholics and republicans.
The danger this posed came from an interview given to me by a member of the so-called New IRA.
Actions speak louder than words – that’s the blunt message coming from a source close to the leadership of the New IRA.
Dissident republicans should have carried out a major attack first before announcing an amalgamation of some of their terror factions, the well-placed source close to the leadership of the New IRA told me recently.
Speaking exclusively to me at a location in County Antrim, the source emphasised the delay in publicly announcing the amalgamation was “because of personality clashes within the various groups which have now been resolved”.
Earlier this summer, three of the factions which comprise the broad dissident republican movement announced they were coming under a central command.

These were the Real IRA – which carried out the 1998 Omagh bomb massacre; the mainly Derry-based vigilante group, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), and a group of independent dissident terrorists, thought to be experienced ex-Provos.

However, two dissident groups remained outside the new central command – Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and the Continuity IRA.
The policy of forming an umbrella organisation actually ran contrary to previous interviews for the Star in which some of the various dissident groups stressed they wanted to remain separate of each other to avoid infiltration by spies and informers.
While the PSNI has consistently warned of the danger still posed by the republican dissident terror factions, there was no statement of panic from the police leadership reacting to the news of the amalgamation.
My source close to the leadership of the New IRA, reacting to the supposedly luke-warm PSNI response, said: 

The various factions were working together anyway, and the announcement was regarded simply as a bit of a PR stunt.
It did not impress the memberships on the ground who felt they should have acted up first, done something together, and then announced the amalgamation.

In an earlier exclusive interview, a source close to the leadership of RAAD has emphasised how that group had already been working in collaboration with the Real IRA. 

At that time, that RAAD source added: “RAAD did collaborate with the Real IRA for a time, but RAAD members didn’t like being told what to do, with Real IRA people who were less experienced.

This was an indication of the personality clashes which had been unveiled by my source close to the New IRA leadership. He added: 

There was a wee bit of personality clash that kept the factions apart. These clashes have now been resolved out of necessity.
But there is still a body of opinion which believes that the groups should remain splintered. And there are some who believe that the coming together is good. But all it takes is one big tout and the whole thing is gone.

The source said ONH had been most emphatic about staying separate from the New IRA. The problem was that the new IRA group wanted to call itself Oglaigh na hEireann, but that name was already taken by this faction, he said. 

Given this new game they are playing, they didn’t want to make the same mistakes as the Provisionals. They have learned from these mistakes and there are wiser heads running this central command. 

However, there is still a body of opinion which believes the case now is that it is too centralised. But a combined group needs to produce something to make headway.

But the big point is there already is a loose association and co-operation among the groups so there was really no need to announce a central command. 

Oglaigh na hEireann and the Continuity IRA were always refusing to be part of this co-operation in the early stages, but there is now more co-operation as their individual campaigns have not come to very much.

 But it does not get around the core issue in that the new combined group should have produced the goods first, then an announcement if they are to be taken seriously. 

'Making an announcement without having first done something makes them look foolish. That’s the sort of stuff that happened the Stickies – making announcements but never following them up' said the source close to the New IRA.

The inability of a dissident republican faction to maintain a Provisional-style ‘long war’ was revealed in an interview with ONH.

The dissident republican terror campaign is running out of steam – and that’s coming from one of the groups involved in that conflict, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH).

Formed in 2005, ONH gradually within five years overtook the more established dissident terror factions, such as the Real and Continuity IRAs. 

In an exclusive interview with me, an ONH source admitted its terror campaign 'has run out of steam in terms of men, materials and money.'

In spite of these sentiments, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott is still warning against playing down the risk of attacks from dissident republicans. 

In August 2010 – just over three years ago – the same ONH source was telling me of its planned three or four-year terror war, pledging that 'the terror won’t end till we smash Stormont.'

Now the ONH source said: 

None of the groups is going forward. They cannot gell it together. There are too many people coming from different directions. 

At the start of the conflict in the late 1960s, the veterans from previous campaigns kept out of it and there were not as many hang-ups. Now, there is too much antagonism from the past.

In initial interviews with ONH, the source suggested having several different factions all operating their separate agendas and campaigns served to prevent infiltration by the security forces on both sides of the border. 

One analysis of the source’s latest comments is that the so-called ‘separate groups’ strategy had failed, and that problems had been caused by recruiting disaffected members of the Provisional IRA and INLA into the ranks of the dissident republican movement. 

However, the ONH stopped very short of declaring that the dissident terror war was over, and even that a temporary ceasefire was on the cards. Instead, he looked to how the terror campaign could be reignited. 

We will just have to wait until we can get it together. We simply don’t have the materials. Some event could trigger that campaign, for example, the economy could contribute.
That event could be round the corner, or we could have to wait longer. The hard reality is that the armed struggle has run out of steam in terms of men, materials and money.
The situation is that we will just have to sit and twiddle our thumbs until a new generation emerges. We will have to wait until something brings that about.
There are more vibes this could come from the South. They seem to be more interested in considering something, but the war has fizzled out because of a lack of materials.

The source said an example of this was the bomb attack on the City of Culture offices in Derry, which was blamed on dissident republicans. The ONH source the device was more like a “firework” than the devices which the Provisionals had in the past.
The source also added that the dissident republican political campaign had also run out of steam with the demise of the Concerned Republicans umbrella group.
But he said he hoped the political campaign could be reignited, too. “There is a group of good people with a good history and are quite active politically and doing community work and with ex-prisoners.”
Ironically, the ONH source also poured cold water on Chief Constable Baggott’s assertion that dissident republicans still remained a threat.
The ONH source said:

 He hasn’t got the staff and he is only saying that to get more funding so he is saying this to make himself more important. The threat is there, but we haven’t managed to get it together. The City of Culture office bombing was just fireworks.

   We need a real shake-up of our systems, said the ONH source.  
Unionists must also remember the bitterness which was enflamed in republicans following the deaths of the IRA and INLA hunger strikers in 1981 – probably the biggest violent blunder by the British since the decision to execute by firing squad the leaders of the 1916 failed Easter Rising.
My analysis has always been along the lines of how Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher’s stubbornness over the hunger strikes meant that 10 republican inmates needlessly died.
None of the 10 republican hunger strikers needed to have died if British Premier Maggie Thatcher had learned the harsh political lessons from the Easter Rising.
Dubbed the Iron Lady for her staunch Right-wing stance, Thatcher dug in her heels politically and dogmatically refused to grant any of the IRA and INLA inmates’ five demands.
One theory is that Thatcher wanted to ‘pay back’ republicans for the March 1979 INLA murder of her very close friend, the then Shadow Northern Secretary and Colditz castle war hero Airey Neave.
It was suspected that Neave would become Northern Secretary upon Thatcher’s general election victory, and would implement a ‘no punches pulled’ military crackdown against republicans in the North.

This is one of the main conclusions a reader can draw from writer Barry Flynn’s enlightening book to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strikes.
Entitled ‘Pawns in the Game’, it is a riveting analysis of the use of the death fast tactic by republicans between 1912 and 1981.
Compared to the 1917 hunger strike of Thomas Ashe and the 1920 death of Thomas MacSwiney after 74 days, modern republicans realised for the death fast to work, they had to use multiple hunger strikers rather than lone ones.
The first multiple hunger strike of the recent conflict took place in 1980 involving seven Maze inmates and lasted 53 days, ending just before Christmas. It had been led by former Belfast Provo commander Brendan Hughes.
It was then felt republicans had achieved their five demands – rights not to wear prison uniforms; not to do prison work; of free association with other inmates and to organise educational and recreational pursuits; to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week; and all restoration of remission as a result of the protest, including the earlier dirty, or blanket protest.
But by New Year 1981, it was clear Thatcher wanted to renege on the earlier concessions to the republicans, sparking the second death fast led by Bobby Sands MP in March.
August 20 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the last of the 10 inmates – the INLA’s Michael Devine after 60 days. That same day, Owen Carron, who had been Sands’ election agent in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, held the Commons seat won in April by Sands, the IRA commander of the second death fast.
The main effect of the hunger strike, which ended in October 1981 with another 13 republicans still on their death fast, was to mobilise the nationalist community and lay the foundations eventually for Sinn Fein to become an Executive partner in Stormont and a significant minority party in the Dail.
But the hunger strike also exposed Thatcher’s lack of knowledge of the Irish situation. She should have learned the lessons of the disastrous British reaction to the 1916 Easter Rising by stubborn general Bloody Maxwell.
Instead of simply locking up the main 1916 Rising conspirators, Maxwell insisted on having them shot by firing squads, thus creating the mass martyr syndrome, which lead to eventual independence for the 26 counties.
Thatcher should have known it would have made secret peace talks between the IRA, INLA and the British Government easier if she had allowed the five concessions.
She also failed to comprehend that it was the republican socialist movement – the INLA – not the mainstream republican Provisionals, who murdered Neave.
It would be another 13 years of bloodshed and hundredas of deaths before the IRA would eventually declare a ceasefire in 1994.

Had Thatcher not ripped up the concessions given to the IRA and INLA after the December 1980 death fast, Ireland could this year have been celebrating and commemorating the 30th anniversary of the IRA’s permanent ceasefire in 1981.
The hunger strikes have also split republicanism as to how many of the 10 could have been saved by the IRA and INLA leaderships once it became clear the British would implement the five demands.
The late Brendan Hughes suggested the IRA allowed some hunger strikers to needlessly die simply to get additional publicity. 


  1. Reassuring to see the new clarity of thinking within loyalist druggie murder gangs. It's ok to shoot UK police here coz they aren't 'our-own' but then wanting the British Army reintroduced coz they'll never shoot 'us'.

    yep, 'terror'/comedy cells of 3 about correct!

    OC Officer Commanding
    QM Quartermaster
    TO 'teligence Ocifer.

    Coulter's endless garbage was written by someone still in the BB I think. He reminds me of Tim Pat Coogan; unsubstantiated sources galore and innuendo and drivel.

  2. Breaking news:

    New loyalist terror army council set up.

    Willie Frazer Chief of staff.
    John Coulter drill sergeant and Benny Hill fitness instructor.

  3. See Allison Morris is on the front page of todays Irish news about those two mortar's that were left in South Armagh by ONH for the whole world to see-she says that the mortars had Hezbollah technology-is that 'fact'or just Fido pillow talk or will something more serious come out of this in the days ahead if war comes from the skys to Syria-is Hezbollah/Syria going to get the blame or supplying those mortar's to be used against the helicopters which dropped of leaders at the G8-
    Would not put it past mi5-but people should remember where this yarn started from-God knows how long those mortars were lying there-

  4. I must've missed the point as I thought this was supposed to be focused on Armed Struggle, instead I read a lot of how Republicans suck at marching.

  5. MH

    Gerryitwasntme can shed no light on them mortars, he spent the entire troubles on the beech, at Omeath.

  6. Three cheers for JC , No, I don't mean Jesus Christ, I mean , John Coulter , He learned to march when he was in the BB , When I was a kid , I recall hearing they were called ,"BUM BOYS" and not , "boys brigade" , being fiddled with by the so called Drill Instructors, But I suppose that could be classed as hearsay , or , "FROM A SOURCE".

    Marching doesn't make anyone Shoot straight.

    "Some republicans march as if they are stamping on flies."

    "Stamping on British and Loyalists heads John."

    John has more sources than "Martin Brunt" from Sky News, lol , his sources = New Scotland Yard = The Met.

    Johns sources = RUC/PSNI/MI5.

    John is attempting to state he has all those sources within factions of the I.R.A. , to make commanders think!.

    John, why don't you go back and start drilling the little BUM BOYS , That's how you learned , Is it Not?.


    Sure didn't myself trip over his wallet on that same beech. lol.

  7. I have been following this site for several years now but feel after reading this post, I needed to reply.I was born and raised in a " loyalist" area within the north Belfast region and from the age of 5 to around 9, I was a member of the BB. I may add, that I hated it and left after my Mother felt some advances towards myself from a leader were leaving a lot to be desired. Anyway, in the BB we spent vast majority of the time playing dodgeball or as we called it " British Bulldog". Other time remaining was based on biblical stories. My Father was in the BB for over 18 years and was also an instructor. This talk of hours upon hours of drill is not in anyway able to form an opinion of a political concept such as Republicanism. Yes, the older boys / young men would have taken part in drill. Now onwards to loads of loyalists laughing at Republican marchers. Well, I have never in my 30 odd year heard a loyalist even mention the words BB and Republican marching style. Even in Protestant areas, the BB are called the bum boys. This post is total fantasy. I have shown other persons his comments about the " M16 armed loyalists" in the city center. He is living in fantasy land. I must add, that I am not a loyalist. I am actually an Atheist and Socialist and have been a long time reader of this site. Keep up the great work and I hope I will be able to join in with some comments here and there.

  8. Maitiu,

    thank you for taking the time to comment.