The "no-go" areas in Northern Ireland 1969-1972

  • Robert Cormac John Turner

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The purpose behind the thesis is to explore a little studied (and indeed little known) phenomenon of
grassroots popular politics that took place in Northern Ireland between the years 1969-1972, during
the early years of the conflict there. In several working-class communities on both sides of the
communal divide, barricades were erected and the state was effectively excluded. These communities
took political and social control of their own districts. It was, in many respects, albeit non-
ideological, “an accidental experiment in anarchism”. How this worked out in the no-go areas, and
what they have to tell us about the relationship of people to the state, are the subjects of this thesis.

In the introduction I shall ask why the study of the no-go areas is relevant to us; and what, if anything,
it has to tell us about popular politics, and people's relationship with the state. Due to the fact that
this is in many ways a very little known subject I will be looking in some detail at its narrative history:
looking at the first phase of the no-go areas of 1969, and the conditions between 1969-1971 that
were to lead to the second phase of the no-go areas in August 1971 in Chapter One. In Chapter Two
I take up the narrative again to look at the development of the far more revolutionary nationalist
second phase of the no-go areas from 1971-1972, and their loyalist counter parts in the summer of
1972. In Chapter Three I look at how: the no-go areas were actually run; their internal politics; what
ideologies underpinned them; and what tensions existed within them. This is also the chapter in which
I explore comparative events from other periods in history, both international and Irish. In Chapter
Four I see how in the absence of the state the no-go areas dealt with crime and kept order. In Chapter
Five I look at the military aspects of the no-go areas; the role of the paramilitaries within them; and
how the British state and army viewed them from a military perspective. In the Conclusion I bring
the story together and see what can be learned from the political and experiment that was the no-go areas: a unique event in the western Europe of the last half of the twentieth century, when people
expelled the state and initiated an experiment in direct democracy.

Overall, I conclude that the no-go areas drew upon local traditions of self-reliance and were the
products of the prevalent fear of the time. But they both represented, and worsened, the destabilisation
of Northern Ireland: and the nationalist no-go areas allowed a republican insurgency to gather
momentum. Internally, nationalist and loyalist no-go areas differed substantially. Nationalist no-go
areas were – at least, initially – strikingly liberal in their own administration of ‘law and order’: and
showed a capacity for informal self-organisation that was robust. The second Free Derry survived for
about a year with no overall organised governing structure to speak of. By contrast, loyalist areas
were firmly under the control of the UDA.
Date of Award14 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorTimothy Keith Wilson (Supervisor)

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 17 May 2027

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