Propaganda In Northern Ireland Essay Research Paper

Propaganda In Northern Ireland Essay, Research Paper

Throughout the history of civilized societies and governments in the world propaganda has played a large part in their affairs. “Propaganda is the deliberative and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognition?s, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (O?Donnell and Jowett, 53). Propaganda?s purpose is “weighted in favor of the propagandist and not necessarily in the best interest of the receiver” (O?Donnell and Jowett, 53). Almost always performed by institutions and governments, propaganda takes on many forms. In particular, North Ireland, which is the focus of my paper, both historically and recently has not been immune to propaganda and its effects. With involvement on behalf of the media, individuals, governments (of both Ireland and the British), and political action groups, propaganda has taken many forms throughout Ireland?s history.

It would be impossible to discuss the history of propaganda in Ireland without first examining in some detail the history of the country itself. Ireland?s history is filled with deep religious and political disputes. Beginning with the Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1169, England started it?s earliest involvement with taking part in Irish affairs and Irish Kings soon submitted to Henry II of England. Later on in 1556, England established many land colonies for Protestant landlords, especially in North Ireland, for the Protestants to act as loyal subjects to England in ruling over the predominantly Catholic population of Ireland (Blanshard, 18). These English settlements continued throughout the country, all of this causing numerous rebellions and uproars throughout the 1800?s between the Catholics and Protestant subjects who pledged loyalty to England (Blanchard, 26).

Eventually in the late 1800?s and early 1900?s the Irish nationalist movement began with the development of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) “in reaction to several hundred years of English rule” (Hamilton, 367). In 1905 a more extreme Irish nationalist group called Sinn Fein (meaning “our-selves”) emerged (Blanchard, 28). “Vigorous political campaigning and violent military action by military nationalists resulted in the British legislature passing the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, which partitioned Ireland into two separate states,” the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and Northern Ireland (Hamilton, 368). This settled many of the early disputes as this treaty was worked out between the British and Irish nationalists such as Lloyd George, Arthur Giffith, and Michael Collins. An agreement was reached recognizing an “Irish Free State for the Twenty-Six Counties of the South with dominion status, and independent affiliation of the Six Counties of the North with Great Britain” (Blanshard, 334). Soon after, the Republic of Ireland declared Eamon de Valera as President. Since this partition was never fully accepted by many of the citizens, both Catholic and Protestant, on both sides of the border, the next seventy years up until now would be filled with uprisings and rebellions. There were many affiliations that still would not be happy with this agreement and so propaganda became a large part of their fight to win their viewpoint.

Ever since its wide spread influence, propagandists have used the media to their advantage in spreading propaganda messages. “The media can, under certain circumstances, have a strong influence on public perceptions of contemporary political issues and allow the powerful to legitimate their actions” (Cottle, 292). It is undeniable that the British and Irish governments have both interfered, directly and indirectly, with media coverage of Northern Ireland. Media institutions on all sides of the troubles in Ireland have been involved in the spread of propaganda. However, when considering the role of media in the troubles one must consider the role that terrorism has played. “Terrorists secure attention, recognition and legitimacy through media exposure” (Cottle, 284). The mass media effectively serve as a propaganda platform for terrorists and their causes. “Approached thus, the media may indeed be a crucial factor in the development or inhibition of terrorism in so far as it provides a public forum for the communication of grievances and political aims” (Cottle, 285). In the media, the term terrorism acts as a label to delegitimize the political aims and actions of those engaging in the violence. Such labels serve the propaganda interest of those opposed to certain groups and their political aims. “Clearly the role of the mass media is of central concern here, constituting as it does a key medium for the ?propaganda war?, a terrain on which the battle for ?hearts and minds? is played out” (Cottle, 285).

With regards to terrorism, the IRA receives propaganda victories when the media, both at home and abroad, have coverage of the British and Protestant attacks on IRA demonstrations. Such attacks include the Bloody Sunday killings (which I will discuss later in the paper) and other Protestant terrorist attacks. Simon Hoggart states in a recent article of Guardian, that the Bloody Sunday killings “at one stroke, rallied the South behind the Catholics of the North… and it provided an inexhaustible seam of anti-British propaganda to be used around the world.” He meant this through media exposure around the world. Further adding to the media?s involvement with the IRA, the motion picture “Michael Collins,” has been “slandered as the glorification of a terrorist and as pro-IRA propaganda” (Golway, 6).

In defense of the British government, however, pro-IRA media have avoided coverage of IRA attacks “such as the Kingsmill massacre (1976; 10 Protestant mill workers executed at a bogus checkpoint), the LaMon Hotel bombing (1978; 12 Protestant patrons incinerated); and the Enniskillen bomb (1987; 11 Protestant parade spectators killed)” (Stevenson, 19). It is not to assume, however, that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, the established British government in Ireland) did not perform propaganda activities of their own. Media attention in favor of the British and Protestant Loyalists “tended to be drawn towards violence, and the violence of the IRA particularly; the British army were represented as… largely inactive except as a rather superior kind of Boy Scout Troop” (Cottle, 285). Those in positions of power, both in government and in the media, have proved reluctant to provide an accurate picture of the events in North Ireland, and have made considerable efforts to prevent journalists and film-makers from presenting the situation from any angle other than that favored by the British government. “The British public is generally allowed to see only the worst of the enemy?s (actions) and the best of their own” (Cottle, 286). Attempts to blacken the name of the IRA have been combined with the aim to play down British army actions and to emphasize its peace-keeping role. “In propaganda terms this has meant playing down Loyalist violence” (Cottle, 289).

British states and its agencies have engaged in all kinds of propaganda and successfully manipulated the media in the past. One example of this would be the “Stalker affair,” involving the press coverage of a senior British police officer who was assigned to investigate a possible RUC shoot-to-kill policy, but then found himself the subject of corruption and misconduct. These allegations led to his removal from the case. “No British newspaper ever seriously entertained the idea that Stalker was investigated and eventually resigned because of any wrongdoing on his part, and how it was publicly suggested he was framed because he was getting too close to the truth” (Cottle, 291). Another incident involved British news reports of the killings of three IRA members. According to the BBC, “they were apparently challenged by, it appears, plain-clothed policemen… then the shoot-out happened” (Miller, 485). As it turned out, the three IRA members had not been shot by plain-clothed policemen but members of the British army and there had been no shoot-out because the IRA members had not been armed. :Furthermore, when the facts began to come to light, rather than reflect on the inaccuracies in forming the initial report the British news media chose to follow the story set by official sources. “Now headline attention turned to the possibility of a fourth escaped IRA member with headlines reading ?Hunt for Fourth IRA Terrorist?” (Miller, 485). Meanwhile, the American press headlines for the same date read “British Admit Killing 3 Unarmed Members of the IRA” (Miller, 485).

However, the U.S. press did not always act as a gate keeper to the actions in North Ireland. In two separate incidents, “British journalists have criticized the U.S. press coverage of Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams? 48-hour visit” to the states in 1994 (Dettmer, 8). Adams, president of Provisional Sinn Fein, the IRA?s political party, was allowed into America for 48 hours and received a chance to speak at an important conference to help the peace process in Northern Ireland. U.S. journalists inaccurately reported that Adams had condemned IRA Violence. “The Daily News and the Post, which cater to Irish-Americans, conveyed the impression that Adams was working toward peace” and British journalists were fuming that “the often naive questions from the U.S. television interviewers… were a gift to such an accomplished propagandist” (Dettmer, 8). The British press pointed out serious inaccuracies in the coverage that allowed Adams to promote himself as a peacemaker without being challenged. Adams insisted to reporters that Sinn Fein has no connection to the IRA. The fact is that Sinn Fein has been widely described as the political arm of the terrorist group. Also angering the British was the belief that Adams and Sinn Fein were secretly raising money to supply the IRA with weapons for their cause. “Adams scored a major propaganda victory in the negotiations underway among the British and Irish governments and Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland” (Dettmer, 9).

Gerry Adams further received another propaganda victory with the American press in an article by Vanity Fair magazine written by Maureen Orth. A featured article in National Review states the editor?s displeasure with Orth?s interview of Adams being an account of how Adams is bringing peace to Ireland. “It is pure propaganda, probably timed to coincide with one of the IRA?s brief cease-fires, which are themselves timed to force the two governments to make unwise concessions” (O?Sullivan, 3). O?Sullivan further claims that Orth knows he is guilty of vicious crimes, yet “she finds Adams sexually attractive.”

Certain individuals have also contributed to the propaganda activities in Ireland. One in particular was Erskine Childers, “an enthusiastic junior imperialist from the heart of the English establishment, who died as a member of the Irish Republican Army” (Foster, 27). As editor of the Irish Bulletin, he demonstrated his talents as a publicist by writing violent and exalted propaganda for the IRA against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. “He was shot by the Free State government of Britain, after a highly questionable judicial procedure, as a traitor to the new Irish regime, working to overturn it” (Foster, 27). Technically, this was not so, though he was a member of the Sinn Fein since 1919, and Secretary to the Irish delegation that signed the Treaty, Childers had never actually taken arms against the British government in Ireland. His main propagandist actions were his writings and organizing “a much-publicized shipment of arms for the Irish Volunteers” (Foster, 28). Childers collated and publicized every murder and atrocity committed by the British Loyalists and had scaled up these activities as a notorious sacking or looting.

The British government also had their share of individuals doing their dirty work as well. “The extent to which British propaganda enjoyed any success at all with the Irish owed much to the particular talents of the poet John Betjeman” (Cole, 33). Betjeman was the British propaganda director in Ireland between January 1941 and June 1943. His attractive personality helped the Irish to see the potential for value in the English despite complete Irish opposition to British policies. Betjeman made many friends among the leaders of the Irish community both through his friendliness and his understanding of the Irish and Irish politics. “Of all the neutral European nations during World War II, Ireland proved to be the most difficult for Great Britain to influence through propaganda” (Cole, 33). The Irish resisted propaganda as few other neutrals did, and once the Battle of the Atlantic was under way, Ireland?s importance to Britain increased dramatically. “The point was strategic. Ireland lay at the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, through which ran the supply lines linking Britain with North America” (Cole, 33). The fact was that the British feared Ireland?s neutrality might actually work against Britain?s Atlantic situation by letting the German?s use the waters off the West Coast of Ireland as a hiding place for U-boats. British efforts at making the Irish see the danger of their being neutral posed to Britain ultimately had to be enhanced by the deployment of propaganda.

That is where Betjeman came into play. The Ministry of Information, which ran war-time propaganda aimed at neutral countries, was among the most disorganized departments in the British government. The Ministry warned Betjeman that in devising a propaganda plan, he must be very careful not to trod on Irish values in any respect. “Such cautions lay behind Betjeman?s propaganda mission in Dublin, which was predicated on the assumption that he must avoid giving offense while stressing the importance of a benevolently neutral Ireland to both countries” (Cole, 35) Allied impatience with Ireland?s neutrality was matched by Ireland?s resentment of past British policy. This resentment was a major factor in Betjeman?s considerations of what kind of propaganda might work in Ireland. Hence, “Betjeman?s initial activities included advising the BBC on broadcasts, making contacts in the press, clergy, and government”, and continue to weaken Irish objections to Britain by spreading the main propaganda lines on the war (Cole, 39). These lines included “Britain is winning, Ireland is dependent on Britain for protection, and Ireland is treated exactly the same as other neutrals, and should expect nothing different” (Cole, 40).

Irish censorship began to loosen in 1942. Press coverage on the war expanded in both British and Irish papers, and Irish journalists reported war news from London. “Also, Betjeman organized a steady stream of literary, academic, and intellectual visitors to Dublin whose presence certainly influenced Irish views of Britain in positive ways. This was only nominally propaganda, however” (Cole, 44). Eventually, the censorship eased and Betjeman was able to circulate printed material with overt propaganda content on a regular basis for the first time in Ireland.

My final examination of the propaganda that has occurred in North Ireland will revolve around the actions of the governments and political/religious groups who are involved with the conflict. In particular, I will discuss the events that were considered propaganda victories for the IRA against the British Loyalists. The first of these events, being the Bloody Sunday killings, is one of the most memorable and tragic days in the history of the North Ireland conflict. “Bloody Sunday refers to the events that took place in Derry on the afternoon of Sunday, January 30, 1972. A Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march had been organized to protest against the continuation of Internment without trial in Northern Ireland” ( An estimated 20,000 men, women and children took part in the march which was fired upon by members of the British Army after a supposed riot broke out. The soldiers responsible for the deaths and injuries that day insisted that they had come under gun and bomb attack by members of the Irish Republican Army and only fired at people in possession of weapons. However, those involved in the march, and many eyewitnesses, all provided evidence that contradicted the statements given by the soldiers. According to theses testimonies none of those killed or injured had any guns or bombs. “The events of Bloody Sunday caused a lot of shock and revulsion at an international level. Within Ireland the killings resulted in a dramatic increase in support for Republicanism in general and the IRA in particular” (

Another event which is considered to be a propaganda victory for the IRA was The Hunger Strike of 1981. “Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army in the Maze Prison, refused food on March 1, 1981″ ( The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. It later became clear, however, that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favor of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike, and the main idea for this protest came from the prisoners themselves. The strike was lasted until October 3 1981 with the end result of 10 Republican prisoners starving themselves to death in support of their demands. “The Hunger Strike of 1981 had very important and far-reaching consequences for Northern Ireland and proved to be one of the key turning points of the troubles” ( The Republican movement had achieved a huge propaganda victory over the British government and had obtained a lot of international sympathy for the IRA. “When the hunger strikers died, their deaths were used to justify further terrorist reprisals” (Hamilton, 369).

One last propaganda victory for the IRA came after involvement from NORAID (the Irish Northern Aid Committee), which was the main source of U.S. funds for the IRA. “By 1923, the IRA had gone underground. To raise monies for its activities, members engaged in educational and agitational speaking tours, some traveling to the United States where there was strong Irish sentiment in the Irish-American communities” (Hamilton, 368). These communities soon aligned together to form NORAID. It is rumored that some of the money raised by NORAID went to supplying guns for the IRA. In any case, when these Americans joined Irish marchers in a parade in Belfast on the morning of August 12, 1984, they came under surprise attack and gun fire of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The RUC justified their shootings as an attack on Martin Galvin, leader of NORAID who was banned from North Ireland, by saying that he showed up in the crowd to make a public speech alongside Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (Belfrage, 137). In their attempt to capture Galvin, the RUC fired off rounds of plastic bullets at point-blank range into the crowd. In the end, twenty people were injured, one man was killed and many more hospitalized. Furthermore, Galvin was never found. “The British Northern Ireland office backed the constabulary stating ?it is clear that there was an organized attempt to attack the security forces” (Belfrage, 138). Consequently, everyone talked about Sinn Fein?s propaganda victory.

Despite the ongoing bloodshed and propaganda schemes, there is still hope, however, for eventually ending this ongoing conflict in North Ireland. Numerous attempts have been made over recent years to devise a peace treaty and agreement that will be feasible to all of the involved parties in the conflict. Whatever the case may be one thing is obvious in my mind: if a settlement is ever to be made, and peace truly reached, then the lies and propaganda need to stop. Honesty will be the only road that will lead the conflict in North Ireland to an end.

Propaganda in North Ireland


Spring 1999

J. Gustainis

Brian Fullerton


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Blanchard, Paul. The Irish and Catholic Power. Boston: Beacon Press, 1953.

Cole, Robert. “Good Relations: Irish Neutrality and the Propaganda of John Betjeman.”

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Cottle, Simon. “Reporting the Troubles in Northern Ireland: Paradigms and Media

Propaganda.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 14 (1997): 282-293.

Dettmer, Jamie. “Was the U.S. press snookered Gerry Adams?” American Journal of

Review 16 (1994): 8-9.

Foster, Robert F. “A Patriot for Whom? Erskine Childers, a very English Irishman.”

History Today 8 (1988): 27-32.

Golway, Terry. “Michael Collins.” America 175 (1996): 6.

Hamilton, Susan E. “Irish Republican Army.” The Encyclopedia of Propaganda. Ed.

Robert Cole. Armont, NY: Sharpe Reference, 1998. 367-369.

Hoggart, Simon. “Sketch: Accountable to Higher Standards.” Guardian 100 (1998): 2.

Miller, David. “Don?t Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda, and the Media.”

Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12 (1995): 485-486.

O?Donnell, Victoria and Garth S. Jowett. “Propaganda as a Form of Communication.”

-Part of the Class Readings, ok?d by J. Gustainis.

O?Sullivan, John. “Lady Killer.” National Review 48 (1996): 3.

Stevenson, Jonathon. “The IRA Twist on Ulster History.” Wall Street Journal 22 Jan.

1998: 19.

WEB SITES VISITED: Date Visited: 30 April 1999. Date Visited: 30 April 1999.


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