Militancy and the Working Class: The Case of Northern Ireland

Matthew T Johnson, John Barry, Stephen Baker, Seán Byers, Erin Hinson, Rachel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Evershed, Mark McCarthy, Ivan Gibbons, Emmet O’Connor, Stephen Hopkins, Christopher J. V. Loughlin

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationSpecial issue


Brexit, the shift to the left in the Labour Party and a rightward shift among Republican parties in Northern Ireland have all contributed to a distortion of traditional ideological affiliations in the island of Ireland and across into Great Britain. Whereas, for much of the past few decades, militancy on the left has been associated with Republican politics in Northern Ireland, in the present, Sinn Fein’s entry into the establishment north and, increasingly, south of the border has mitigated their commitment explicitly to left wing policies and certainly to militancy. Indeed, support for Brexit among some Unionists has presented a much more radical set of policy commitments with radical implications for the existing settlement. While those policies are in no fundamental sense left wing (the outcomes of Brexit, if it is finalised, may make Britain more like the Republic under Conservative stewardship or more like Scandinavia under Labour), the challenges that they pose for the left have the potential both to unsettle traditional loyalties and approaches to politics.

This issue, which was developed and guest edited by Sophie Long of Queen’s University Belfast and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, examines a number of related aspects of the challenges faced by the left. In particular, there is a recurring focus on the relationship between the left, the working class and a range of phenomena that speak to decline and disorientation. In the first article, John Barry examines the flag protests against the backdrop of increasing Loyalist alienation from political processes. In reply, Steve Baker considers the ways in which a single-issue protest often cited as regressive may, in contrast to the conscious neoliberal consumption of counter-protests, offer potential for development of class consciousness. Following this, Sean Byers analyses the effect of the financial crisis on resistance in Northern Ireland, highlighting a number of neoliberal phenomena that call for different forms of resistance. Johnson replies, arguing that neoliberalism has saturated the island of Ireland in such a way as to render historical understandings of Republicanism as offering more likely prospects of socialist transformation questionable. Next, Erin Hinson considers means by which communities can legitimise narratives of militant histories in ways that do not delegitimise others through examination of the Action for Transformation (ACT) exhibition on Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) loyalism. Rachel Oppenheimer replies, outlining ‘the strands of collective memory to which the ACT exhibition speaks’, including ‘the official memories of scholars, the dismissive memory of non-combatants likely to view former paramilitaries as mindless thugs, and the competing memory of Irish republicans’. On a related topic, Jonathan Evershed then examines official narratives of remembrance and their effect on contemporary politics. Matthew Johnson replies, arguing that such forms of commemoration may actually mis-remember the experiences of working class participants in conflict themselves. The issue ends with a review symposium on Labour and the politics of disloyalty in Belfast, 1921–39 by Christopher J.V. Loughlin, featuring reviews by Mark McCarthy, Ivan Gibbons, Emmet O’Connor and Stephen Hopkins, with a reply by the author, Christopher Loughlin.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages134
Specialist publicationGlobal Discourse
PublisherBristol University Press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Militancy and the Working Class: The Case of Northern Ireland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this