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(Brian Walker was a BBC journalist covering N. Ireland for much of the period, so he had access to many of the key players, and was close at hand for many of the key events).
As with any counterfactual, it is possible for objective and informed observers to come to different conclusions. My own view is that "the armed struggle" went on for many years long after it had become counter-productive, and that any initial gains have been eclipsed by a long history of frozen conflict since, which has barely moved the situation forward in 25 years.
But my main point is that, if judged against their own war aims, the armed struggle was an abject failure. The attempt to force the British to withdraw and concede a united Ireland through violent action was never going to succeed, and only succeeded in reinforcing the British/unionist alliance and consolidating cross class unionist unity - something which is still playing out today.
Even 25 years after the armed struggle ended, achieving a positive and consensual united Ireland is still an enormous task, because there has been very little real reconciliation on the ground. That is in large part the legacy of the war, and it will take several generations to subside.
Index of Frank's Diaries
But if I understand the basic setting in the late 60ies and early 70ies it is to a large extent the local unionist that uses their positions of power in local government and strategic unions to undermine progress the local catholics is making. And the UK government is reluctant to use state violence against the unionists who therefore gets away with using violence against the catholics, and once UK forces are sent in the are almost only used against the catholic inhabitants.
If so, it would be possible that the IRA violence is either a) what brings the unionists to the table or b) what makes the UK government bring the unionists to the table. And even though the IRA did not and probably could not succeed in getting bring about unification through violence, through the GFA the plain field has been changed enough to make a non-violent unification possible, which wasn't possible before.
In a sense (and a bit inspired by Graeber), the argument would be that through a violent campaign, where teh ulitmate goal is doomed to fail, the balance of structural violence underpinning the state structure was somewhat shifted.
But as I said above, to actually make that argument one would have to have more knowledge about the situation and to really argue a or b one would ideally also have access to decisionmakers diaries, private letters, memorandums etc. Perhaps some of the sources from the early 70ies are availble now, but I doubt critical sources from the 90ies are availble.
But that is not to say that the IRA campaign, at least initially, also moved the Overton window as to what was deemed possible and necessary by senior policy and decision makers. For one thing, the unionist bastion of Stormont was dissolved and the UK government took much more of a direct interest in and responsibility for running N. Ireland.
But while initially welcomed by nationalists in NI as a protection from unionist security forces, this quickly morphed into an army of occupation employing Kitson style counter-insurgency tactics as had been used in the colonies.
The Irish government also became much more directly involved, negotiating directly with the British government on behalf of nationalists - initial with a very hostile British government, but gradually cooperation between the two governments improved because of the multiple relationships built up through joint EU membership, and the realisation, on the British side, that the war was never going to be stopped without active support from the Irish government.
However, very early on, the law of diminishing returns kicked in to the point where IRA violence merely stiffened unionist and UK government resolve and made political concessions more and more difficult. Ultimately it became completely counter-productive, at which point the IRA leadership started to looking for a way out of the war without losing too much face.
But the end of the IRA has also had a negative effect. Whereas during the GFA negotiations and for many years afterwards UK/Ireland relations became better and better - culminating in a very positively received visit by the Queen in 2010 - relations between the governments have become progressively worse since Brexit, and are now at their lowest point since Bloody Sunday.
The parallel I draw is with the demise of socialist parties in the West after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Once the Cold War was over, capitalists and their political parties no longer had to worry about the risk of social revolution at home. They became increasingly brazen in destroying trade unions, workers rights, and promoting ever more unequal policies.
The Tory party now doesn't care about the risk of re-igniting the Troubles. It doesn't care about antagonising the Irish government or the EU. Only a humiliating defeat in a serious trade war will, I think, bring the UK governing class back to their senses.
So the EU needs to be aware that the current dispute over the Protocol is about much more than customs technicalities. It is about the UK proving it is the Equal of the EU and can do more or less whatever it wants without effective sanction.
If we don't want large scale violence to break out in N. Ireland all over again, the EU needs to be absolutely ruthless in its defence of the international legal order and in protecting the interests of its local member state most effected.
Index of Frank's Diaries
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