I am a Political Prisoner: ‘Illegitimate’ Securitisation During the 1981 Maze Prison Hunger-strike
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This thesis seeks to address the problematic connection between securitisation theory and legitimacy. Specifically, this research challenges the theory’s assertion that securitising actors must be ‘legitimate’ actors, and does so through an analysis of the 1981 Maze Prison Hunger-strike carried out by republican prisoners, specifically focusing on the hunger-strike of Irish Republican Army (IRA) member Bobby Sands. So, the central research question is: ‘How does securitisation theory’s hyper-focus on ‘legitimate’ actors fail to account for the IRA’s counter-securitisation during the 1981 Maze Prison Hunger-strike, and how can an analysis of this event provide a broader understanding of legitimacy within securitisation theory?’ To answer this question, a framework has been constructed based on conceptions of legitimate entities and legitimate security, as well as securitisation theory and counter-securitisation. Through a qualitative analysis of how the IRA ‘spoke security’ to and mobilised their audience during Sands’ hunger-strike, this thesis finds that ‘illegitimate’ groups can counter-securitise, namely through the strategic exploitation of lines of communication with their relevant audience and the utilisation of cultural and religious messaging that may hold particular weight for said relevant audience. This research thus proposes amendments to securitisation theory in order to account for this, these being: understanding legitimacy as a target of (counter-)securitising moves, broadening the scope of relevant audiences within securitisation theory, and removing the prerequisite that a (counter-)securitising actor must be a state representative or political elite. The findings of this research may create the opportunity for more in-depth academic analysis of processes of securitisation carried out by groups that are considered to be illegitimate, and also may provide governments and relevant authorities with a further understanding of how ‘illegitimate’ groups appeal to their relevant audiences and ignite societal mobilisation.