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A history of Republican public relations in Northern Ireland from “Bloody Sunday” to the “Good Friday Agreement”

Ian Somerville (School of Communication, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, UK)
Andy Purcell (School of Communication, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, UK)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to examine the public relations strategies of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and their political wing Sinn Féin, throughout the historical period known as the Northern Ireland “Troubles”.


This study uses semi‐structured élite interviews as its primary data. The study structures a historical account of the development of republican public relations around three main phases: the “propaganda of the deed” phase; the development of political public relations phase; and the peace process phase.


Much previous research traces a common trajectory for terrorist organisations, where they begin with large‐scale “propaganda of the deed” activities, and then move toward more typical PR activities when their “message” begins to be heard. The findings suggest that this is only partially true for the republican movement. Previous research also claims that peace settlements virtually never acknowledge the demands of terrorist groups. However, the findings indicate that the republican movement, via the use of skilful public relations techniques and disciplined internal organisational communication, pushed itself to the forefront and remained central in the efforts to develop a peace process.

Research limitations/implications

The study draws on interview data with a small group (six) of republican strategists, all of whom where involved in some capacity in public relations activities. While it is not claimed that they represent the views of the whole republican movement on the issues discussed, they do arguably represent the views of a “dominant coalition”. Future research could usefully investigate the public relations of power sharing since the Good Friday Agreement.


Previous approaches to analysing the subject of public relations and terrorism have tended to regard it as an activity engaged in by psychopaths or criminals. This paper's starting‐point is to problematise this definition of “terrorism” and at the same time widen the application of the term to include State actors. In this regard, it is in opposition to much current Western media, governmental and academic usage of the term. This research also differs from most other studies of terrorism in the public relations literature, in that it uses élite interviews as its primary source of data.



Somerville, I. and Purcell, A. (2011), "A history of Republican public relations in Northern Ireland from “Bloody Sunday” to the “Good Friday Agreement”", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 192-209.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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