I began thinking about the Troubles’ book some twenty years ago. It brought me to the most fundamental and yet the most frightening question of all about the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Who was primarily responsible for driving the Troubles and its attendant toll of dead, injured, and the emotionally traumatised?

I was afraid of the question, and its implications, so I sat on it for a very, very long time. For some reason, rather like a subterranean stream bubbling to the surface, now seems the time to revisit the question, identify the historical actors, and venture an answer.

The Historical Actors

The first step was to establish criteria whereby responsibility might be attributed. The second was to set up a parade of the likely suspects and examine the historical record of each in turn. The final stage, in the tradition of the ‘who dunnit’, was to narrow the list of suspects down to one. This group of actors is judged to have been primarily responsible for 30 years of political violence.

The British State & Army

The Royal Ulster Constabulary

The Irish State & Garda

Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

People’s Democracy

Ian Paisley & the Paisleyites

Democratic Unionist Party

Ulster Volunteer Force

Ulster Defence Association

Christian Churches

Irish National Liberation Army

Irish Republican Army (Provisional)

Irish Republican Army (Official)


Who did the killing?

As is apparent, the vast majority of killings were by Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries.

By contrast, the RUC & RUC Reserve were responsible for 2% of Troubles-related deaths.


  • Ruth Dudley Edwardswriter and historian

    “Probably the bravest, most controversial and ground-breaking book on Northern Ireland since Conor Cruise O’Brien’s States of Ireland (1972), this enthralling whodunnit is the product of a lifetime’s reading, thinking and passionate activism on behalf of the victims of governments, terrorists, fellow-travellers and other vested interests.”

  • Cormac Ó Grádaauthor of Famine: A Short History

    “Part moving memoir and part engagé history. Savage indignation? Definitely. Irony and humour? Indeed. Neutral? Hardly. Stimulating? Throughout. Convincing? Let the readers decide. Who Was Responsible? is a must-read for friend and foe.”

  • Richard Englishauthor of Does Terrorism Work? A History

    “A provocative, original and courageous book.  Anybody interested in the Northern Ireland Troubles, or in the complex legacies of terrorist violence, should read it.”

Liam Kennedy Book Review