Counter Extremism in Ireland: An Overview of the Landscape

Published date01 February 2023
Date01 February 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2023, Vol. 39(1) 58 –74
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221138673
Counter Extremism in
Ireland: An Overview of the
Orla Lynch1
This article addresses how the legacy of the conflict known as the Troubles affects how
we conceive of and respond to terrorism and political violence (TPV) on the island of
Ireland. It will focus on how dominant frameworks such as those that emerged after
9/11 led to what has become a two-tiered system of counterterrorism and counter
extremism: one for Troubles-linked extremism and one for Islamic-linked extremism.
Focusing on issues of ideology, radicalization, motivation, legislation, and particularly
prison regimes, this article will examine how Northern Ireland and the Republic of
Ireland frame and respond to TPV. In addition, this article will highlight how, what
is termed Preventing Violence Extremism (PVE) and Countering Violent Extremism
(CVE), manifests in Ireland in response to pre- and post-9/11 instances of TPV and,
finally, how lessons from Ireland might be relevant for addressing political violence
beyond the island.
extremism, Ireland, PVE, CVE, terrorism
Since 2001, the 9/11 attacks have become the lens through which we view terrorism
and political violence (TPV; Douai & Lauricella, 2014). The attacks led to a reorganiza-
tion of national security priorities whereby terrorism became perceived as the strategic
threat to many Western countries. However, this threat was seen as emerging predomi-
nantly from terrorism linked to Islam that manifest as Al Qaeda, Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria (ISIS), and their affiliates. Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of the
1University College Cork, Ireland
Corresponding Author:
Orla Lynch, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University College Cork, Cork T12 K8AF, Ireland.
1138673CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221138673Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeLynch
Lynch 59
Al Qaeda attacks in the United States in 2001 was the broad acceptance that Islamic-
linked terrorism was a de facto phenomenon rather than an evaluation based on political
and cultural (and pejorative) narratives (Jackson, 2007). The 9/11 attacks shaped coun-
terterrorism and later counter-extremism laws and policies, entirely influenced by the
perception that an extremist Islamic ideology was one of the (if not the) main issues to
be addressed in responding to and preventing terrorism (Roach, 2011). This framing
was largely adopted wholesale in the literature on terrorism and we developed what
might be regarded as tunnel vision; groups such as Al Qaeda and later ISIS grabbed the
headlines in 2001 and have never really receded, even when other ideological forms of
extremism should have captured our attention (Ahmed & Lynch, 2021). The continued
existence and rise of TPV linked to other ideologies, such as separatism (Ahmed &
Lynch, 2022), the far right (Koehler, 2021; Schuurman, 2015), single issue attacks, and
nationalism (Horgan & Morrison, 2011) has suffered comparative neglect in the years
since 2001.
Perhaps even more relevant in the framing of the terrorist threat is the recent work
by Koehler (2021) on side switching, where he focuses on the surprisingly common
process of extremist actors1 changing sides or effectively switching their ideology to
that of their once outgroup; in other words, his work demonstrates the fluidity of ideol-
ogy as a motivator and an explainer of terrorism and extremism. In effect, he points out
that categorizing TPV into definitive categories (e.g., Islamic, nationalist, or right wing)
based on a loosely defined ideology is problematic. His work demonstrates as fallacy
the notion that ideology serves to explain one’s motivation to get involved in TPV and,
particularly, how problematic responding to TPV based solely on ideology can be.
Despite this, ideology remains a central framework for our understanding of TPV and
this is particularly visible in the assumptions inherent in Countering Violent Extremism
(CVE) and Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) initiatives, as will be discussed later.
In light of these conditions, this article addresses how terrorism is conceived of and
responded to in Ireland. In particular it will examine how dominant frameworks, such
as those that emerged after 9/11, led to what has become a two-tiered system of coun-
terterrorism and counter extremism; one for TPV linked to the conflict in Northern
Ireland, known as the Troubles, and another for post 9/11 political violence linked to
Islam. In addition, this article will highlight how what is termed PVE and CVE mani-
fests in Ireland in response to pre- and post-9/11 TPV and, finally, how lessons from
Ireland might be relevant for addressing terrorism outside of the island.
Setting the Scene—The Troubles
The island of Ireland has for long experienced TPV, predominantly linked to the con-
stitutional status of six counties in the North East of the island. These counties, known
collectively as Northern Ireland, were partitioned in 1921; they became part of the
United Kingdom, while the remaining 26 counties formed what ultimately became the
Republic of Ireland (English, 2003). The status of these six counties has been con-
tested ever since and this contestation manifests as a conflict known colloquially as the
Troubles; the violence lasted from 1969 to 1998 when more than 3,500 people were

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