real-iraFollowing the attacks on two British Army soldiers and a Policeman in Northern Ireland this week, I have been intrigued by the choice of language used to describe those committing such atrocities. At no time have I heard the term ‘terrorist’ used despite the actions of the perpetrators seemingly falling into the remit of ‘terrorism’. Throughout, those involved have been referred to as ‘dissidents’.

According to the Chambers Online Dictionary, a ‘dissident’ is:

someone who disagrees publicly, especially with a government

I guess that the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) or Real Irish Republican Army (IRA) would disagree publicly with the British Government but killing three in as many days probably goes beyond a mere public disagreement.

Wikipedia offered some insight. It stated that a ‘dissident’:

…broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution…

In relation to the situation in Northern Ireland, it adds that the term ‘dissident’:

…has become the primary term to describe Irish republican terrorists who have continued to pursue an armed campaign to achieve a United Ireland

So they are ‘terrorists’ but for some reason, are called something different?

According to Part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000, ‘terrorism’ is defined as:

…the use or threat of action where:
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it—
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

The activities of the CIRA and the RIRA this week alone, surely fall under this broad, all-encompassing definition. Given that there is no British legislative definition of ‘dissident’ being in place, it would seem that politicians at least would be deploying the term ‘terrorist’ rather more so than ‘dissident’. Bizarrely though they are not.

But I guess that if nothing else, the term ‘dissident’ is convenient and diplomatic, not least because the US administration has been tacitly supporting the Irish Republican ‘dissidents’ for decades now. They surely would not want to be seen to be supporting ‘terrorism’ in any of its guises, especially given the ongoing ‘war on terror’.

Likewise, the British Government would not want to be seen to have been duped by those perpetuating ‘terrorism’ whilst they have been tracking the ‘terrorists’ elsewhere (in a completely different community perhaps?). Enough to say that ‘terrorist’ nowadays is politically, the sole preserve of the ‘Muslim’ and/ or ‘Islamic’ radical, fundamentalist, extremist, etc, etc.

And so, to aid understanding and context, I offer an indicative list below of some of the many ‘dissident’ attacks on the UK in the past two decades.

NB: Please note that these are NOT ‘terrorist’ attacks and are only a handful of the estimated 10,000 attacks orchestrated by Irish Republicans ‘dissident’ against Britain (a fuller list as presented to Parliament can be found here by scrolling half way down the page):

22 September: Deal barracks bombing: 11 Royal Marines bandsmen are killed and 22 injured when base in Deal, Kent is bombed by the IRA.


May 16: IRA detonate a bomb underneath a minibus in Wembley killing Sgt Charles Chapman (The Queen’s Regiment) and injuring another soldier.

June 1: A solder is killed and 2 injured in a shooting by the IRA at Lichfield City railway station

20 July: The IRA detonate a bomb at the London Stock Exchange causing damage to the building. Nobody was injured in the blast but extensive damage to surrounding area.

30 July: Ian Gow MP killed by a car bomb planted by the IRA while at his home in Sussex.


7 February: The IRA launched three mortar shells into the back garden of 10 Downing Street.

February 18: A bomb explodes at Victoria Station. One man is killed and 38 injured.


February 28: A bomb explodes at London Bridge station injuring 29 people.

April 10: A large bomb explodes in St Mary Axe in the City of London killing three people. The bomb caused £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damaged caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred up to that point.

August 25: The IRA plant three fire bombs in Shrewsbury. No fatalities or injuries recorded.

October 12: A device explodes in the gents’ toilet of the Sussex Arms pub in Covent Garden killing one person and injuring four others.

16 November: The IRA plants a bomb at the Canary Wharf, but is spotted by security guards. The bomb is deactivated safely.

3 December: The IRA exploded two bombs in central Manchester, injuring 65 people.


20 March: The IRA set off two bombs in Warrington. The first, on a gasworks, created a huge fireball but no casualties; the second killed two children and injured many more.

April 24: The IRA detonate a huge truck bomb in the City of London at Bishopsgate killing one, injuring more than 40 people, and causing near £1 billion worth of damage. The insurance payments required were so enormous, that Lloyd’s of London almost went bankrupt under the strain.


9 February: The IRA bombs the South Quay area of London, killing two people.

15 February: A 5lb bomb placed in a telephone box is disarmed by Police on the Charing Cross Road.

February 18: An improvised high explosive device detonates prematurely on a bus travelling along Aldwych in central London killing Edward O’Brien, the IRA operative transporting the device and injuring eight others.

15 June: The IRA detonated a 1500 kg bomb in the centre of Manchester destroying the Arndale shopping centre and injuring 206 people.


1 June: Bomb explodes on Hammersmith Bridge


4 March: A car bomb explodes outside the BBC’s main news centre in London. One London Underground worker suffered deep cuts to his eye from flying glass and some damage was caused to the front of the building.

16 April: Hendon post office bombed

6 May: The Real IRA detonate a bomb in a London postal sorting office. One person was injured.

3 August: The last Real IRA bomb, as of June 2008, in Britain explodes in Ealing, West London, injuring seven.

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This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at


3 thoughts on “When is a ‘terrorist’ not a ‘terrorist’? When they’re an Irish Republican ‘dissident’

  1. Any academic, intellectual reader is going to laugh at this pathetic blog the moment you quoted wikipedia.

    1. That’s fine – laugh away to your heart’s content !!!

      Could it have possibly been that the whole piece was written with a sense of irony and that the use of references were chosen in that same vein?

      Could it be that the piece does not aspire to be ‘academic’?

      If it did – being the academic and intellectual reader that you no doubt are – would I not have sought to reference the piece correctly using maybe the Harvard system (my own favourite but possibly not yours)? Surely you would have picked up on this wouldn’t you…???

      The problem for me is that ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ readers sometimes miss the point. Do you see what I mean ?

      On a blog where I espouse the joys of ‘faffing’ and where I write obituaries to the late Reg Varney, I struggle to see how you can suggest that it is ‘academic’.

      Pathetic, isn’t it…?

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