Underground penality: The IRA’s punishment of informers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article seeks to open a novel venue for punishment and society scholarship: the penal logics of armed groups – non-state actors engaged in direct struggle with the state agencies that normally carry out criminal justice. Though many armed groups establish penal systems, applying to their members or the communities under their influence, this issue has thus far not received adequate attention in criminological literature. In exploring this phenomenon this article introduces the concept of ‘underground penality’: organized punishment which is unlawful under state law, occurs in the context of an armed campaign against the state, and is aimed at controlling behaviour deemed deviant by those groups. The potential of research on this topic is demonstrated by interpreting the punishment of informers by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Northern Ireland conflict. Three key themes emerging from the research are identified and analysed: underground penality as ‘state prefiguration’ – interpreting rebel penal practices as part of an effort to convey a state-like image; underground penality as social control – analysing direct violence against suspected informers within a broader social control system; and underground penality as ‘legitimation work’ – the effects of legitimacy considerations in constraining and shaping punishment by armed groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-395
Number of pages21
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • armed groups
  • informers
  • legitimacy
  • non-state actors
  • penality
  • political violence
  • social control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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