A rising against British rule in Ireland began in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916. It was quickly suppressed, but nationalist pressure for home rule continued, culminating in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). Under the terms of a treaty that followed the ceasefire, Southern Ireland, soon to be known as the Irish Free State (but now known as the Republic of Ireland), came into being. Six of the nine counties of Ulster (the northernmost of Ireland's four traditional provinces) remained within the United Kingdom. Collectively, they became known as Northern Ireland. (Since three counties of Ulster - Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan - are in the republic, it's not really correct to equate Northern Ireland with Ulster!)
The partition of Ireland split the ranks of those seeking home rule. For some, a 26-county republic was acceptable, as a first step, whereas others totally rejected partition. The short-lived Irish Civil War ensued (1922-3). The anti-treaty side lost. But that didn't extinguish the nationalist aspiration to incorporate the whole of Ireland in the republic. Some republicans were willing to use violence to achieve that end, and an organization calling itself the Irish Republican Army (IRA) - the name used by the republican army in the War of Independence and by the anti-treaty combatants in the Civil War - mounted an intermittent guerrilla campaign over the following years.
A Dubliner called Cathal Goulding became the IRA's chief of staff in 1962. He and his leadership colleagues developed a Marxist analysis of the Irish situation, and to some extent steered the IRA away from 'physical force republicanism' towards political action. In 1969/70, republicans of a more traditional outlook broke away to form what became known as the Provisional IRA (PIRA) and Provisional Sinn Féin, although the latter is now known simply as Sinn Féin. The factions remaining loyal to the Goulding leadership were referred to as the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin. (Later, Official Sinn Féin adopted the title Sinn Féin The Workers' Party. But in 1982, it renamed itself as simply the Workers' Party.)
Leaving aside the actions of dissident groups (discussed below), which began in the 1990s, the most sustained period of Irish republican terrorism was 1969-1997. Various paramilitary groups were involved, but by far the most dominant was the PIRA. In 1998, with encouragement from the Clinton administration in the USA, the Provisionals reached an accord with the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Known as the 'Good Friday Agreement', it formalized the cessation of the PIRA's terrorist campaign and led to the eventual decommissioning of its weapons. Among other things, the agreement made provision for the early release of PIRA prisoners, and entailed acceptance, by the Provisionals, that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of its population.
However, the direction taken by the Provisional leadership in the 1980s and 90s met with internal resistance, which led to two splits, reminiscent of the split in the IRA and Sinn Féin in 1969/70. First, in 1986, some prominent Provisionals broke away to form Republican Sinn Féin, which eventually manifested a military wing, called the Continuity IRA (CIRA). The second split occurred in 1997, when hard-liners, dissatisfied with the Provisional leadership's move towards a cessation of violence, left to form what became the Real IRA (RIRA), whose political wing was the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, later to be termed the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. The CIRA and RIRA went on to experience splits of their own, and it seems that units of both have acted with more autonomy than was customary with units of the PIRA.
Martyn Frampton's scholarly and well-referenced book examines the birth of these dissident republican groups and charts the subsequent developments. He makes it clear that from the perspective of the so-called dissidents, it's they who have adhered to traditional Irish republican principles. They accuse their erstwhile comrades in the Provisionals of having 'sold out'. Of course, from a non-republican viewpoint, or indeed from the standpoint of the Provisional leadership of recent years, groups such as the CIRA and RIRA might be seen as unpragmatic and fundamentalist.
Frampton notes that when the PIRA was in existence, it was able to curtail the activity of rival groups. But after it stood down, there was more scope for such groups to operate.
In an appendix, Frampton provides a timeline of violent dissident republican activity. Although I was aware of some of the major incidents (e.g. the murder of a Catholic police officer called Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, in 2009), I was under the impression that dissident terrorist activity was sporadic. But Frampton's appendix shows that it's been disturbingly frequent. The cost in terms of human suffering has been tragically high. For instance, in February 2002, Peter Mason, a civilian security guard, lost his arms, his sight and his hearing when he picked up a booby-trapped flask near an Army training centre in County Londonderry.
Although the book is generally very good, the historical details are skimpy in places. For example, Frampton makes passing reference (on pp. 162 and 177-9) to the murder, in August 2003, of a Daniel McGurk. He explains that the RIRA later claimed to have disciplined some of its members who'd been involved in the killing, and who were judged to have acted for their own ends. A little more information about this would have been helpful.
Frampton gives a lot of space to the dissidents' critique of the Provisional leadership for participating in the peace process, but he doesn't really address the psychological factors that may be important in attracting people to groups such as the RIRA. For example, if people grow up in traditionally republican areas and have family members who've been involved in terrorist activity, it wouldn't be surprising if they followed suit. Of course, similar considerations would apply to people growing up in staunchly unionist areas where family members or close associates had paramilitary connections.
At the end of the 1960s, there were civil rights marches by members of the minority Catholic population in Northern Ireland, who faced discrimination regarding housing and employment. Unfortunately, these protests attracted violence from elements of the non-Catholic community, and there were instances of police brutality directed towards the demonstrators, all of which aggravated the inter-communal conflict. But the aforementioned inequalities have now been addressed, and it may be that if Northern Ireland were incorporated in the Republic of Ireland, it would make relatively little difference, in practical terms, to the daily lives of people living on either side of the previous border. Indeed, it could be that residents in Northern Ireland would be slightly worse off (e.g. in terms of healthcare) if they were in a united Ireland.
Frampton's book is generally quite readable, although there's a badly worded sentence at the bottom of p. 257. I noticed very few typos or grammatical errors, but a few unusual words crop up here and there - for example, 'encomium' and 'perdure'.