I’ve identified the recognition of Britain’s inability to defeat the republicans through military means alone as a key moment in the conflict in the North of Ireland. This is a crux moment because it differentiates the conflict there from other conflicts, notably from the Israel/Palestine conflict, which doesn’t have a moment when Israel recognizes it can’t win militarily because it continues to use military force, and especially community punishment, as a political means against the oppressed people there.
The Glover Report, or “Northern Ireland: Future Terrorist Trends”, is a 1978 report where the British recognized exactly this – that while they could limit the IRA’s campaign, they could not eliminate it, and all the political solutions being considered at the day would likely make things worse. The report was stolen in the post by a republican, given to Sinn Fein and photocopied and distributed through the community.
The report doesn’t appear online, at least as far as I could find, although it is partially reproduced in many places. I wasn’t able to photocopy it, so I only have a partial reproduction here in the form of some paragraphs which seemed particularly important which I copied and will post here in the interest of free and open access to this essential document.
“35. Propaganda has an important bearing on PIRA strategy. The leadership is becoming increasingly sensitive of the need to avoid alienating support not only in the roman Catholic areas of the Provice but also in the Republic and among those of Irish extraction overseas. The Provisionals continue to justify their activities by claiming that they are merely reacting to the Security Froces and that violence is the only response to the repression of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. In the interests of publicity PIRA may well stage a few spectacular attacks to indicate that their normal lower posture stems from restraint rather than weakness. on the other hand, we cannot exclude the possibility that PIRA, like terrorists in West Germany and Italy, might reject the fruitless quest for popularity and accept that they can achieve more if unfettered by pursuit of a favourable public image. The balance of probability however is that propaganda will continue to influence strategy and the selection of targets. (p10)
Likely trends in strategy and targeting
3. Although PIRA is likely to follow an erratic path in the years ahead we expect to see a continuation of the general trend towards more precise targeting and greater expertise. Propaganda considerations will probably stilly influence targeting. But a change in leadership might radically alter this. We expect PIRA to attempt to acquire the skills and weaponry needed to refine their attacks on:
a. Members of the Security Forces.
b. Security Force bases and installations.
c. Public utilities, communications, ogovenrment offices and transport.
d. Any other targets specifically linked with British rule in Northern ireland. (p11-12)
…Possible Political Change
In considering the will of the Republican terrorists and their supporters…the present struggle we need to examine the likely developments in political life of the Province. The following are perhaps possible
a. The present form of government may continue. We would then… there to be a general atmosphere of political calm, though politics would be frustrated. Government policy would be principally one of containment and the underlying problems would remain unsolved.
b. The current system of direct rule may be modified by introducing another elected upper tier of local government.
c. The Government may achieve its aim of restoring devolved government in the near future, although this seems unlikely.
d. The concept of independence might take firmer root. But the communities interpret the objective differently.
e. A new party based on socialist policies transcending sectarian barriers may emerge. But similar attempts since 1922 have always ended in failure. In Ireland the appear of sectarian and nationalistic sentiments has always been stronger than that of left wing ideology. The continuing polarization of the population on sectarian lines only emphasizes the improbability of such an initiative. .
12. Only the first alternative, continued direct rule, offers any real prospect of political calm and hence waning support for the terrorist during the next 5 years. Under any other scenario Republican fears of a Protestant ascendency being re-established would enable PIRA to pose as the defenders of the minority interest. even if the present system of government is maintained the current muted support for the forces of law and order will remain delicately balanced and susceptible to any controversial government decision or Security Force action. We see no prospect in the next 5 years of any political change which would remove PIRA’s raison d’être. (p3)
15. The Provisionals cannot attract the large numbers of active terrorists they had in 1972/73. But they no longer need them. PIRA’s organization is so that a small number of activists can maintain a disproportionate level of violence. There is a substantial pool of young Finian aspirants, …climate of violence, eagerly seeking promotion to full gun-carrying terrorist status and there is a steady release from the prisons of embittered and dedicated terrorists. Thus, though PIRA may be hard hit by Security Forces attrition from time to time, they will probably continue to have the manpower they need to sustain violence during the next 5 years. (4)
17. Popular Support. Republican terrorists can no longer bring crowds of active sympathizers onto the streets at will as a serene for gunmen….there is seldom much support even for traditional protects marcher. But by reorganizing on cellular lines PIRA has become less dependent on public…than in the past and is less vulnerable to penetration by informers. The hardening segregation of the communities also operates to the terrorist advantage. Although the Provisionals have lost much of the spontaneous backing they enjoyed early in the campaign, there is no sign of any equivalent surge of support for the Security Forces. There are still areas within the PRovince broth rural and urban, where the terrorists can base themselves with little risk o betrayal and can count on active support in emergency. The fear of a possible return to Protestant repression will underpin this kind of support for the Provisionals for many years to come. Loyalist action could quickly awaken it to a much more volatile level. (p4)
64. The Provisionals’ campaign of violence is likely to continue while the British remain in Norhtern Ireland. During the next 5 years we see little prospect of change in the inter-relationship between the various terrorist groups in Ireland ut we expect PIRA may become gradually more influenced by overseas terrorist groups. We see little prospect of political development of the kind which would seriously undermine the Provisional’s position