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Former combatants and civil society in Northern Ireland

By James W. McAuley, Peter Shirlow and Jon Tonge

Abstract

This paper draws on interviews to focus on the beliefs and organisation of ex-combatants and former paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland. The release of such prisoners, irrespective of the acts they had committed, was designed to consolidate an embryonic peace. A key question however, is the extent to which released prisoners have set aside the earlier sense of historical grievance and ideological commitments which had motivated their actions, in favour of peaceful conduct in a â??normalisedâ?? society. In particular this paper focuses on how many Ex-prisoners have become active in areas of civil society. Contemporary debates around civil society often engage with the notion of social capital. Working civic institutions are regarded as vital to the emergence of a political society based on the principles of citizenship, rights, democratic representation and the rule of law. Within this matrix, four central aspects have been identified as follows: relations of trust; reciprocity and exchanges; common rules, norms and sanctions; connectedness, networks and groups. Former prisoners have often engaged in civil society and political activism as part of a process of asserting and defending communal rights. In this respect, the nature of the conflict may have changed, but its root causes and beliefs may not have altered. Using the voices of former combatants this paper assess the contemporary development of civil society in Northern Ireland and the possibility for an agreed political futur

Topics: HT, JA
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.hud.ac.uk:1243
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