Reviewing the Riots: Analyzing the Role of Paramilitary Policing in the Police Riots of 1980's Britain

Irish Student Law Review, 2006

15 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2006 Last revised: 26 Nov 2013

See all articles by Cian C. Murphy

Cian C. Murphy

University of Bristol - School of Law


The riots in Dublin on Saturday February 25th brought home to the south of Ireland something the north and Britain already knew: when different cultures clash on the streets, the job of the police can be a difficult, if not impossible one. This paper seeks to delve into the history of the 1980's riots in Britain, and how they were policed, in an attempt to explain what causes protest to boil over into civil unrest. Its focus is on riots in marginalised communities in Britain. This paper will question the existence of a "vicious cycle," by which minority communities are criminalized and over-policed, resulting in disaffection and protection. An explanation is sought for the criminalization of marginalised communities. The police response and the resulting "spiral of deterioration" is examined. The analysis will examine disorder, its policing, and consequential questions for the legitimacy of the state. In concluding, the relevance of this analysis to policing today, in Britain and Ireland, will be highlighted. However, it is not the purpose of this paper to provide a detailed account of the February riots, nor to assess them for cause and affect, merely to highlight the errors of the past in the hope of avoiding their repetition in the future.

Keywords: Police, Riot, Gardai, Britain, Ireland, Police Racism

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Cian C., Reviewing the Riots: Analyzing the Role of Paramilitary Policing in the Police Riots of 1980's Britain. Irish Student Law Review, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Cian C. Murphy (Contact Author)

University of Bristol - School of Law ( email )

8-10 Berkeley Square
Bristol, BS8 1TH
United Kingdom

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