The History of the People’s Democracy civil rights, socialism, and the struggle against the Northern state, 1968-1983
: civil rights, socialism, and the struggle against the Northern state, 1968-1983

  • Matthew Collins

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the history of one of the most active socialist organizations during the period commonly referred to as the Irish ‘Troubles’, the People’s Democracy (PD). It constitutes the first archive driven study of the PD, combining a rich body of primary sources with important oral testimony. Following an interdisciplinary approach and utilising work from various fields, including historiography, political science and sociology, this research covers some fifteen years of political activism, offering a unique look at the recent history of Northern Ireland through the prism of the radical left. The formative chapters consist of a detailed account of the emergence of the PD in 1968 and its role in the civil rights movement, showing how the PD drove forward the civil rights campaign in a radical direction. In doing so, these chapters strengthen our understanding of the socialist left in this complex social movement, they also challenge much of the existing academic literature, which tends to be under researched and suffers from a number of lacunas. The experience of repression that met the civil rights movement saw the PD radicalise, wherein it cohered into an organised political party, carrying out activity throughout some of the most tumultuous events of the Troubles, and helping to spearhead many of the most important campaigns of the 1970s and early 1980s, including the campaign against internment in 1971, and later protests around prisoners’ rights. This thesis chronicles the role of the PD in these movements and assesses the politics of the organisation, including its changing relationship with Irish republicanism. It provides a thorough account of the PD’s unique contribution to the history of the radical left in Ireland, from 1968 to the early 1980s, and therefore fills a significant gap in the historiography.
Date of AwardMar 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPeter O'Connor (Supervisor)

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