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Moderation without Change: The Strategic Transformation of Sinn Féin and the IRA in Northern Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2016


This article examines how violent separatist groups moderate. Using the case of Sinn Féin and the IRA in Northern Ireland, it shows that moderation is a multidimensional process, entailing a change in strategic behaviour but not necessarily in the goals or values of a separatist group. For Irish republicans, moderation entailed giving up violent revolution and embracing peaceful reformism, but it did not require changing long-term goals, accepting the legitimacy of British rule in Northern Ireland, or distancing themselves from their history of armed struggle. Moderation was possible because both Irish republicans and the British state distinguished between republicans’ strategic behaviour and their political goals, with the British state neither expecting nor demanding a change in the goals of republicanism, and republicans showing a willingness to change tactics to bring them closer to their long-term goal of a united Ireland. This finding has important implications for the moderation of other radical separatist groups.

Copyright © The Author(s). Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Matthew Whiting is a Fellow in Government in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Contact email:


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