New Sinn Fein: Republicanism Beyond the IRA by Agnes Maillot

By Agnes Maillot

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According to the explanation provided subsequently by the IRA, the bomb had been intended for soldiers and military personnel, but went off at the wrong time. In the summer of 1988, seventeen people were ‘mistakenly’ killed in IRA operations, in spite of the Sinn Féin leader’s appeal for more professionalism: ‘You have a huge responsibility. Sometimes, the destiny of this struggle is in your hands. You must show incessant attention’ (IT, 12 November 1987). Nevertheless, IRA operations continued to claim civilian lives, and, beyond the human tragedy that this entailed, they had devastating effects on the organisation as a whole.

When he was re-arrested in 1977 and charged with conspiracy, he immediately joined the protest. Sands’ journey was thus common to a significant number of IRA volunteers, but he nevertheless became an emblematic figure within the Republican Movement. What made him stand out as the figure he represented in the following years, both in Ireland and abroad, was the way in which the circumstances surrounding his prison experience and death captured his contemporaries’ imagination. His election to Westminster for the constituency of Fermanagh-South Tyrone in April 1981 was seen as legitimising his struggle and proved how much there was to be gained from such tactics.

In November 1987, the IRA planted a bomb on Remembrance Day in Enniskillen which killed eleven people and injured sixty-three. According to the explanation provided subsequently by the IRA, the bomb had been intended for soldiers and military personnel, but went off at the wrong time. In the summer of 1988, seventeen people were ‘mistakenly’ killed in IRA operations, in spite of the Sinn Féin leader’s appeal for more professionalism: ‘You have a huge responsibility. Sometimes, the destiny of this struggle is in your hands.

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