Conflict, transformation, and former loyalist paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland

James W. McAuley, Jonathan Tonge, Peter Shirlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Following the 1998 Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland, levels of paramilitary violence have declined substantially. Among loyalists, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and associated Red Hand Commando (RHC) have formally renounced violence, and dissolved their 'military structures', and perhaps the most reticent of all of the major paramilitary groupings, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), has taken on board the central tenets of conflict transformation, and 'stood down' all of its 'active service units' in the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Thus, paramilitary violence now is mainly confined to the activities of 'dissident' republican groups, notably the Real and Continuity IRAs, although low-level sectarian violence remains a problem. Such dramatic societal and political change has resulted in a focus on the roles of formal party political leadership as agents of social change. This gaze, however, tends to obscure other important events such as the efforts, structures and approaches taken at the grassroots level to uphold and sustain conflict transformation and to maintain a reduction in violence. This article provides analysis of the role played by former loyalist paramilitary combatants in conflict transformation, and draws on material obtained through significant access to those former paramilitaries engaged in processes of societal shifts. In both personal and structural terms there is evidence of former combatants working to diminish the political tensions that remain as a result of the long-term inter-communal hostility developed across decades of violence and conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-40
Number of pages19
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number1
Early online date19 Dec 2009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


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