Propagandistic Atavism in Post-conflict Northern Ireland: On Riots As Discursive Events


  • Stephen Goulding Ulster University
  • Amy McCroy Centre for Media Research Ulster University



consociationalism, rioting, Northern Ireland, public sphere, propaganda


In Northern Ireland (NI), riots are frequently employed by communities as a means of voicing political discontent. In the post-conflict era particularly, NI has witnessed a growing pattern of (reactionary) riots enacted by marginalised communities who feel increasingly disenfranchised. Yet, this communicative capacity of riots remains largely unsung in the literature on political communication in NI. Significantly, such marginalised groups remain side-lined in NI’s public sphere in order to stabilise power-sharing arrangements. Historically, through state-censorship imposed during NI’s political conflict, “the Troubles”, such peripheral status impelled marginalised movements to utilise alternative media practices (e.g., political muralism) to draw attention to their agendas (Rolston, 1991, 2003; Hoey, 2018). In the post-conflict era, however, these marginalised actors are increasingly instrumentalising riots as publicly performed spectacles to publicise their political grievances. The loyalist riots of spring 2021 stand out as one such case study, wherein a marginalised community utilised a riot as a mediatised public platform to disseminate messages to external audiences that, up until then, had been inattentive to the concerns of loyalism. In lieu of the above, the following article’s objectives are two-fold: firstly, we expound a conceptual understanding of riots as “discursive events” before presenting an analytical instrument capable of analysing riots in this light. Secondly, relying on primary data, we apply this framework in an analysis of a case study of the 2021 loyalist riots in NI. Beyond demonstrating the expediency of discursive approaches in the analysis of riots, the findings of our case study illuminate the strategic, propagandistic and instrumental dimensions of the 2021 loyalist riots which research has so far neglected.


Primary Sources

Beesley, Arthur (2021). “Foster Urges End to Loyalist Violence in Belfast and Derry”. Irish Times (4 April).

Bradfield, Phillip (2021). “LCC Chairman Condemns ‘Vilification’ of Nineteen-year-old Loyalist Joel Keys After He Appears Before MPs on NI Protocol”. Newsletter (21 May).

Carroll, Rory (2021a). “Despair Fuels the Flames of Young Loyalist Anger in Northern Ireland”. The Guardian (11 April).

—. (2021b). “Ignored, Bullied, Patronised: Why Loyalists in Northern Ireland Say No to Brexit ‘Betrayal’”. The Guardian (12 June).

Doyle, Simon (2021). “Claims of Greater Loyalist Deprivation Not Supported by Statistics”. Irish News (14 April).

Faulconbridge, Guy and Ferguson, Amanda (2021). “Northern Irish Loyalist Paramilitaries with Draw Support for 1998 Peace Deal”. Reuters (4 March).

Gray, Anna (2021). “On the 23rd Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Peace Has Never Been More Fragile in Northern Ireland”. Politikapolitika (10 April).

Hirst, Michael (2021). “NI Riots: What Is Behind the Violence in Northern Ireland?”. BBC (14 April).

Horgan, Joe (2021). “Riots in Northern Ireland Reveal Absurdity and Incoherence of Loyalism”. Irish Post (21 April).

Jarman, Neill (2018). “Ulster Loyalism Is a Rather Curious Beast, Beyond Mere Allegiance”. Irish Times (31 March).

Kennedy, Rachael (2021). “Northern Ireland: Why Are People Rioting and Who Is Behind It”. EuroNews (14 April).

McKay, Susan (2021a). “Riots Stopped Because Prince Andrew or Philip or Something – He’s Dead”. Irish Times (17 April).

—. (2021b). “What Is Smart, Young Joel Keys Doing with Loyalist Paramilitaries?”. Irish Times (21 May).

Morris, Allison (2021). “Loyalist Umbrella Group Breaks Silence to Call For an End To Unrest”. Belfast Telegraph (9 April). Murphet, Julian (2020). “Named and Nameless Others”. Sydney Review of Books.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (2017). Multi-Deprivation Index Measure 2017. NISRA.

Secondary Sources

Alonso, Rogelio (2001). “The Modernization in Irish Republican Thinking Toward the Utility of Violence”. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 24(2), pp. 131-144.

—. (2016). “Terrorist Skin, Peace-Party Mask: The Political Communication Strategy of Sinn Féin and the PIRA”. Terrorism & Political Violence, 28(3), pp. 520-540.

Ashe, Fidelma and Harland, Ken (2014). “Troubling Masculinities: Changing Patterns of Violent Masculinities in a Society Emerging from Political Conflict”. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 37(9), pp. 747-762.

Bell, John B. (1987). To Play the Game: An Analysis of Sports. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Boudana, Sandrine and Segev, Elad (2017). “Theorizing Provocation Narratives As Communication Strategies”. Communication Theory, 27(4), pp. 329-346.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). “Structures and the Habitus”. In: Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 72-95

—. (1993). Sociology in Question. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Bowman-Grieve, Lorraine and Herron, Stephen (2020). “Then and Now: Irish Republicanism and Ulster Loyalism Online”. Anon. Digital Extremisms, Springer, pp. 109-132.

Brass, Paul R. (1991). Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Brighenti, Andrea Mubi (2010). Visibility in Social Theory and Social Research. Springer.

Bruns, Axel and Burgess, Jean E. (2011). “The Use of Twitter Hashtags in the Formation of ‘ad hoc’ Publics”. Proceedings of the 6th European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2011.

Bryan, Dominic (2015). “Parades, Flags, Carnivals, and Riots: Public Space, Contestation, and Transformation in Northern Ireland. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 21(4), p. 565.

Calhoun, Craig (1997). Nationalism. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Clausewitz, Carl von (1968). On War. Edited by Anatol Rapoport from Vom Kriege (1832).

Cooper, Martha (1988). “Rhetorical Criticism and Foucault’s Philosophy of Discursive Events”. Communication Studies, 39(1), pp. 1-17.

Corcoran, Mary P. and O’Brien, Mark (2005). Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban. Dublin: Four Courts.

Foucault, Michel (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated from the French by AM Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books.

Fraser, Nancy (1990). “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy”. Social Text (25/26), pp. 56-80.

Gitlin, Todd (1998). “Public Sphere or Sphericules”. In: Liebes, Tamar and Curran, James (eds.). Media, Ritual and Identity. London; New York: Routledge.

Goulding, Stephen (2022). “Against a Hard-earned Peace: (de)Legitimation Discourses of Political Violence in Post-conflict Northern Ireland”. In: Chiluwa, I. (ed.). Discourse, Media and Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goulding, Stephen and McCroy, Amy (2020). “Representing the (un) Finished Revolution in Belfast’s Political Murals”. Critical Discourse Studies, pp. 1-27.

Habermas, Jürgen (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Strukturwandel der öffentlichkeit (1962).

Hayes, Mark (2012). “Political Violence, Irish Republicanism and the British Media: Semantics, Symbiosis and the State”. Criminal Visions: Media Representations of Crime and Justice, pp. 133-155.

Hayward, Katy (2014). “Deliberative Democracy in Northern Ireland: Opportunities and Challenges for Consensus in a Consociational System”. Democratic Deliberation in Deeply Divided Societies, pp. 11-34.

Hayward, Katy and Komarova, Milena

(2019). “2 The Use of Visibility in Contentious Events in Northern Ireland”. The Aesthetics of Global Protest. Amsterdam University Press, pp. 59-80.

Hoey, Paddy (2013). “Performing the Peace Process and Performing the Past in the Irish Republican Commemoration”. Kritika Kultura, 21/22, pp. 436-456.

—. (2018). Irish Republican Media Activism Since the Good Friday Agreement: Shinners, Dissos and Dissenters. Oxford University Press.

Horgan, Goretti (2013). “The State of Loyalism”. Irish Marxist Review, 2(5), pp. 46-52.

Jarman, Neill (2020). Material Conflicts: Parades and Visual Displays in Northern Ireland. Routledge.

Jarman, Neil and O’Halloran, Chris (2001). “Recreational Rioting: Young People, Interface Areas and Violence”. Child Care in Practice, 7(1), pp. 2-16.

Lacquer, Walter (1977). Terrorism: A Study of National and International Political Violence. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Le Bon, Gustav (1895). The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. London: TF Unwin.

Leonard, Madeleine (2010). “What’s Recreational About ‘Recreational Rioting’? Children on the Streets in Belfast”. Children & Society, 24(1), pp. 38-49.

Lijphart, Arend (1969). “Consociational Democracy”. World Politics, 21(2), pp. 207225.

Lotman, Yu M.; Piatigorsky, Alexander M., and Shukman, Ann (1978). “Text and function”. New Literary History, pp. 233-244.

McAlister, Siobhan; Haydon, Deena, and Scraton, Phil (2013). “Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth in “Post-conflict” Northern Ireland”. Children Youth and Environments, 23(1), pp. 1-22.

McAuley, James and Spencer, Graham (2011). Ulster Loyalism After the Good Friday Agreement: History, Identity and Change. Springer.

McLaughlin, Greg and Baker, Steve (2010). The Propaganda of Peace: The Role of Media and Culture in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Miller, David (1992). “Contesting Political Violence: Terrorism, Propaganda and the Media”. The Linen Hall Review, 9(1), pp. 37-39.

—. (1994). Don’t Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda, and the Media. UK: Pluto Press.

—. (2002). “The Media, Propaganda and the Peace Process in Ireland”. Media in Ireland: Issues in Broadcasting.

Mulvenna, Gareth (2016). Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries: The Loyalist Backlash. Oxford University Press.

Murphet, Julian (2020). “Named and Nameless Others”. Sydney Review of Books, I.

O’Dowd, Liam and Komarova, Milena (2011). “Contesting Territorial Fixity? A Case Study of Regeneration in Belfast”. Urban Studies, 48(10), pp. 2013-2028.

Radford, Mark (2015). The Policing of Belfast 1870-1914. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Ramsey, Phil (2015). “Broadcasting to Reflect ‘Life and Culture As We Know It’: Media Policy, Devolution and the Case of Northern Ireland. Media, Culture & Society, 37(8), pp. 1193-1209.

—. (2016). “BBC Radio Ulster: Public Service Radio in Northern Ireland’s Divided Society”. Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 23(1), pp. 144-163.

Reilly, Paul and Trevisan, Fillippo (2016). “Researching Protest on Facebook: Developing an Ethical Stance for the Study of Northern Irish Flag Protest Pages”. Information, Communication & Society, 19(3), pp. 419-435.

Reisigl, Martin and Wodak, Ruth (2016). “The Discourse-historical Approach (DHA)”. Methods of Critical Discourse Studies, pp. 23-61.

Rice, Claris and Somerville, Ian (2013). “Power-sharing and Political Public Relations: Government-press Relationships in Northern Ireland’s Developing Democratic Institutions”. Public Relations Review, 39(4), pp. 293302.

—. (2018). “Dialogue, Democracy and Government Communication: Consociationalism in Northern Ireland”. In: Anon.Consociationalism and Power-Sharing in Europe. Springer, pp. 103-127.

Rice, Claris; Somerville, Ian, and Wilson, John (2013). “Government Communication in a Post-conflict Society: Contest and Negotiation in Northern Ireland’s Consociational Democratic Experiment”. Organisational and Strategic Communication Research.

Ricoeur, Paul (1973). “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered As a Text”. New Literary History, 5(1), pp. 91-117.

Rolston, Bill (1991). Politics and Painting: Murals and Conflict in Northern Ireland. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Pr.

—. (2003). “Changing the Political Landscape: Murals and Transition in Northern Ireland”. Irish Studies Review, 11(1), pp. 3-16.

Rummel, Rudolph J. (1976). Understanding Conflict and War. Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Scheipers, Sibylle (2017). “‘The Most Beautiful of Wars’: Carl von Clausewitz and Small Wars”. European Journal of International Security, 2(1), pp. 47-63.

Shirlow, Peter and Murtagh, Brendan (2006). Belfast: Segregation, Violence and the City. London: Pluto Press.

Sighele, Scipio (1891). La folla delinquente. Torino: Fratelli Bocca.

Silva, Antonio S. and Mace, Ruth (2015). “Inter-group Conflict and Cooperation: Field Experiments Before, During and After Sectarian Riots in Northern Ireland”. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1790.

Somerville, Ian and Purcell, Andrew (2011). “A History of Republican Public Relations in Northern Ireland from ‘Bloody Sunday’ to the ‘Good Friday Agreement’”. Journal of Communication Management, 15(3), pp. 192- 209.

Stainer, Jonathan (2005). “The Possibility of Nonsectarian Futures: Emerging Disruptive Identities of Place in the Belfast of Ciaran Carson’s The Star Factory”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23(3), pp. 373-394.

Taylor, Rupert (2008). “The Belfast Agreement and the Limits of Consociationalism”. In: Anon. Global Change, Civil Society and the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Springer, pp. 183-198.

Tonge, Jonathan (2012). “No One Likes Us; We Don’t Care’: ‘Dissident’ Irish Republicans and Mandates”. The Political Quarterly, 83(2), pp. 219-226.

Virilio, Paul (1994). The Vision Machine. Indiana University Press.

Waldman, Thomas (2016). War, Clausewitz and the Trinity. London: Routledge.

Wilkinson, Steven I. (2009). “Riots”. Annual Review of Political Science, 12, pp. 329-343.




How to Cite

Goulding, S., & McCroy, A. (2022). Propagandistic Atavism in Post-conflict Northern Ireland: On Riots As Discursive Events. Tripodos, (51), 85-107.