The death of Police Constable Ronan Kerr in a car bomb attack in Omagh on 2 April 2011 has highlighted the enduring threat of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, and as such demonstrates the continuing need for critical research on all aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism policy, not merely those topics brought to the fore by the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001.
According to criminologist Andrew Silke, 2,281non-fiction books with the word ‘terrorism’ in the title had been published since September 2001, compared to only 1,310 books in total prior to this date. In his pioneering 1991 work, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) the late John Whyte (p. vii) wrote: “It is quite possible that, in proportion to size, Northern Ireland is the most heavily researched area on earth.” Neither of these statements should be read as a reason to abandon research on terrorism or Northern Ireland, but instead should be seen as an appeal to write conflict in contemporary Northern Ireland back into a terrorism studies agenda that has recently focused predominantly on the Western world’s current obsession with international terrorism.
Following the death of Constable Kerr last Saturday, Prime Minster David Cameron stated: “Those who carried out this wicked and cowardly crime will never succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to a dark and bloody past” (BBC, 2011). But perhaps Northern Ireland is in a dark and bloody present; since September 2001, the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) has reported 68 deaths as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland. In the same time period 57 people have died as a result of international terrorism in Great Britain. Given the relative size of the population, this represents a stark contrast, and the government’s terrorism threat levels, published for international terrorism since August 2006 and for terrorism related to Northern Ireland since September 2010, reveal a glaring disconnect between the government’s threat perception, and the current reality of terrorist attacks. The current Home Office threat level for international terrorism in the UK and for terrorism related to Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland is ‘severe’, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely, the threat level for terrorism related to Northern Ireland in Great Britain is ‘substantial’, a strong possibility. Yet last Saturday’s lethal bomb attack, and the many, frequent real and hoax bomb alerts that have disrupted parts of Derry, north Belfast, west Belfast and Lurgan in the first three months of this year alone, suggest that a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland is not merely highly likely, but that attacks are in fact, a regular occurrence. Whilst the threat level for international terrorism in the UK was increased to ‘critical’ in the wake of the failed car bombing of London on 29 June 2007 and the attack on Glasgow airport a day later, the threat level has not recently been raised with regards to terrorism in Northern Ireland.
The disparity between the government’s response to international terrorism and terrorism related to Northern Ireland raises important questions which resonate with the conference themes, notably; what is the link between terrorism research and policy? Has the focus on international terrorism by both the government and orthodox terrorism scholars reinforced a skewed threat perception? How does a government differ in its response to terrorism in a post-conflict polity than in a peaceful society? When is terrorism merely a crime, and who benefits from the representation of terrorism in Northern Ireland as a crime rather than as ‘political violence’? These are big questions, yet a critical approach can offer new understandings of the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the links between research and policy, and can suggest the need to broaden the research agenda beyond merely following official pronouncements and assessments.
The conference committee therefore, welcomes papers and workshop proposals on these themes.
 Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning (eds.), Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 34.