The IRA and the shadow of the informer : punishment, governance, and dealing with the past

  • Ron Dudai

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how an armed group understands and manages the operation of informers against it, using the case-study of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The research argues that the IRA’s policies and discourses in relation to the practical and political threat of informing are located within their wider governance efforts, during and after the Northern Ireland conflict. The study is based on interviews with former IRA members and others as well as extensive archival research, and draws upon a wide variety of literature from criminology, sociology and other disciplines. It argues that although rarely used for the context of armed groups, the framework provided by the “punishment and society” field in particular offers the most appropriate theoretical backdrop to analyse the IRA’s response to informing.

The first part of the thesis analyses how the punishment of informers by the IRA during the Northern Ireland conflict was shaped by a range of goals, including deterring informers, maintaining the organization’s legitimacy, and finding the most effective way to reduce the threat of informing. It also looks at how the IRA developed a range of adaptation strategies, such as “defining-down” informing and employing public pedagogy campaigns; and how informing, while a major security problem for the IRA, was also an important resource in facilitating and legitimizing its governance efforts. The second part examines how during the post-conflict era the issue of informing continued to both challenge and enable the governance efforts of the IRA and the Republican Movement more broadly. It analyses, for example, the enduring hostility to informers and how they became useful post-conflict enemies for Republicans; the importance of rumours in relation to alleged informers; and the way the issue has been used by “dissident” Republicans who oppose the peace process.

Several themes cut across these questions and issues, such as the tension between ideology and pragmatism in the response to informing, the complex relationship between armed groups and the communities from which they operate, and the importance of local context in shaping armed groups’ policies and practices. The shadow of the informer, omnipresent and ever-shifting, is therefore a key prism to understand punishment, governance and dealing with the past by armed groups.
Date of AwardDec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorKieran McEvoy (Supervisor)

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