Menace Without Mandate? Is There Any Sympathy for “Dissident” Irish Republicanism in Northern Ireland?

Dissident Irish Republicans have increased their violent activities in recent years. These “spoilers” reject the 1998 Good Friday Agreement power-sharing deal between Unionist and Nationalist traditions in Northern Ireland. Instead dissident IRAs vow to maintain an armed campaign against Britain’s sovereign claim to Northern Ireland and have killed British soldiers, police officers, and civilians in recent years. These groups have small political organisations with which they are associated. The assumption across the political spectrum is that, whereas Sinn Fein enjoyed significant electoral backing when linked to the now vanished Provisional IRA, contemporary violent Republican ultras and their political associates are utterly bereft of sympathy. Drawing upon new data from the Economic and Social Research Council 2010 Northern Ireland election survey, the first academic study to ask the electorate its views of dissident Republicans, this article examines whether there are any clusters of sympathy for these irreconcilables and their modus operandi. The piece assesses whether there are any demographic, structural, ideological, religious, or party trends indicating Republican dissident sympathies. It also assesses the extent to which dissidents are seen as a threat and examines whether this perception is shared evenly across Northern Ireland’s two main communities.