In Search of the People: The Formation of Legitimacy and Identity in the Debate on Internment in Northern Ireland

Sissel Rosland


The identification of and with “the people” has important effects in political discourse. It works to legitimise political goals; it constructs inclusion and identity, and it produces exclusion of those who do not fit the characteristics attached to “the people.” The current article examines how different concepts of ‘the people’ were constructed by various political groups in Northern Ireland in the debate on internment in the early 1970s. Internment was introduced in August 1971 in order to curb the escalating conflict, but came to increase rather than reduce the level of conflict. The article discusses how exclusionary concepts of “the people” worked to widen the gulf between the groups, and identifies four main sets of “peoples” constructed in the debate: “the loyal people,” “the responsible people,” “the moral people” and “the risen people.”


Northern Ireland; internment; legitimacy; identity; “the people;” political discourse; exclusion; inclusion; conflict

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