organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland
from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland
by force of arms and political persuasion. It emerged out of the December 1969 split of the Irish Republican Army
over differences of ideology and how to respond to violence against the nationalist community. This violence had followed the community's demands for civil rights
in 1968 and 1969, which met with resistance from some of the unionist
community and from the authorities, and culminated in the 1969 Northern Ireland riots
1972 Bloody Friday bombings by the Provisional IRA around Belfast, [[Bloody Friday (1972)|Bloody Friday]] bombings by the [[Provisional Irish Republican Army|Provisional IRA]] around [[Belfast]], [[Bloody Friday (1972)|Bloody Friday]] bombings by the [[Provisional Irish Republican Army|Provisional IRA]] around [[Belfast]], [[Northern Ireland
1972 Three car bombs are detonated in Claudy, Northern Ireland, killing nine in what is believed to be a Provisional Irish Republican Army attack.
1973 Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape. Three Provisional Irish Republican Army members escape from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Republic of Ireland aboard a hijacked helicopter that lands in the exercise yard.
1974 Guildford pub bombings: bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) kill four British soldiers and one civilian.
1975 Balcombe Street Siege: An IRA Active Service Unit takes a couple hostage in Balcombe Street, London.
1978 The Troubles: The Provisional IRA detonates an incendiary bomb at the La Mon restaurant, near Belfast, killing 12 and seriously injuring 30.
1979 An IRA bomb kills British World War II admiral Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and 3 others while they are boating on holiday in Sligo, Republic of Ireland. Another bomb near Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland kills 18 British soldiers.
1979 In Dublin, Ireland, Provisional Irish Republican Army member Thomas McMahon is sentenced to life in prison for the assassination of Lord Mountbatten.
1981 Provisional Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands begins his hunger strike in HM Prison Maze.
1981 Francis Hughes starves to death in the Maze Prison in a Republican campaign for political prisoner status to be granted to Provisional IRA prisoners.
organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland
from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland
by force of arms and political persuasion. It emerged out of the December 1969 split of the Irish Republican Army
over differences of ideology and how to respond to violence against the nationalist community. This violence had followed the community's demands for civil rights
in 1968 and 1969, which met with resistance from some of the unionist
community and from the authorities, and culminated in the 1969 Northern Ireland riots
. The IRA conducted an armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, over the course of which it was responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 630 civilians. The IRA itself lost 275–300 members, of an estimated 10,000 total over the thirty-year period. The Provisional Irish Republican Army is also referred to as the PIRA, the Provos, or by its supporters as the Army or the 'RA; its constitution establishes it as Óglaigh na hÉireann
("The Irish Volunteers") in the Irish language
The IRA's initial strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict enough casualties on the British forces that the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from the region. This policy involved recruitment of volunteers
, increasing after Bloody Sunday
, and launching attacks against British military and economic targets. The campaign was supported by arms and funding from Libya
and from some groups in the United States
. The IRA agreed to a ceasefire in February 1975, which lasted nearly a year before the IRA concluded that the British were drawing them into politics without offering any guarantees in relation to the IRA's goals, and hopes of a quick victory receded. As a result, the IRA launched a new strategy known as "the Long War". This saw them conduct a war of attrition
against the British and increase emphasis on political activity, via the political party Sinn Féin
The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike
in mobilising support and winning elections led to the Armalite and ballot box strategy
with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The abortive attempt at an escalation of the military part of that strategy led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political compromise to end the conflict, with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the SDLP
and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement. When the British government then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the organisation called off its ceasefire in February 1996. Until July 1997, the IRA carried out several bombing and shooting attacks. These included the Docklands bombing and the Manchester bombing, which together killed 2 civilians, injured 212 more and caused around £500 million in damage.
After the ceasefire was reinstated, Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Belfast Agreement
On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council
announced an end to its armed campaign
, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using "purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means", and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning
. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission
stated that the IRA was "committed to the political path" and no longer represented "a threat to peace or to democratic politics", and that the IRA's Army Council was "no longer operational or functional". The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist
group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland
. Two small groups split from the Provisional IRA, first in 1986 (Continuity IRA) and then in 1997 (Real IRA). Both reject the Belfast Agreement and continue to engage in direct paramilitary action.
OriginsIn August 1969, a confrontation between nationalists and police in Derry
following an Apprentice Boys of Derry
march led to the Battle of the Bogside
– three days of heavy fighting between rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs and police who saturated the area with CS gas
. Fighting spread beyond Derry over the following days. Burning, damage or intimidation by loyalists
forced 1,505 Catholics from their homes in Belfast
in the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, with over 200 Catholic homes being destroyed or requiring major repairs. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had been poorly armed and unable to adequately defend the Catholic community, which had been considered its traditional rôle since the 1920s. Veteran republicans were critical of the IRA's Dublin leadership which, for political reasons, had refused to prepare for aggressive action in advance of the violence. On 24 August Joe Cahill
, Seamus Twomey
, Dáithí Ó Conaill
, Billy McKee
and several other future Provisional leaders came together in Belfast intending to remove the Belfast leadership and turn back to traditional republicanism. Although the pro-Goulding
commander Billy McMillen
stayed in command, he was told it was only for three months and he was not to have any communication with the IRA's Dublin based leadership.
Traditional republicans formed the "Provisional" Army Council in December 1969, after an IRA Army convention was held at Knockvicar House in Boyle, County Roscommon
. The two main issues were the acceptance of the "National Liberation Strategy" and a motion to end abstentionism and to recognise the Dáil, Stormont and Westminster. While the motion on the "National Liberation Strategy" was passed unanimously the motion on abstentionism was only passed by 28 votes to 12. Opponents of this change argued strongly against the ending of abstentionism, and when the vote took place, Seán Mac Stíofáin
, present as IRA Director of Intelligence, announced that he no longer considered that the IRA leadership represented republican goals. However, there was not a walkout. Those opposed, who included Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, refused to go forward for election to the new IRA Executive.
While others canvassed support throughout Ireland, Mac Stíofáin was a key person making a connection with the Belfast IRA under Billy McKee and Joe Cahill, who had refused to take orders from the IRA's Dublin leadership since September 1969, in protest at their failure to defend Catholic areas in August. Nine out of thirteen IRA units in Belfast sided with the Provisionals in December 1969, roughly 120 activists and 500 supporters. The first "Provisional" Army Council was composed of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Paddy Mulcahy, Sean Tracey, Leo Martin, and Joe Cahill, and issued their first public statement on 28 December 1969, stating:
We declare our allegiance to the thirty-two county Irish republic, proclaimed at Easter 1916, established by the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, overthrown by forces of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British-imposed six-county and twenty-six-county partition states.
The Sinn Féin
party split along the same lines on 11 January 1970, when a third of the delegates walked out of the Ard Fheis
in protest at the party leadership's attempt to force through the ending of the abstentionist
policy, despite its failure to achieve a two-thirds majority vote of delegates required to change the policy. Despite the declared support of that faction of Sinn Féin, the early Provisional IRA was extremely suspicious of political activity, arguing rather for the primacy of armed struggle.
There are allegations that the early Provisional IRA received arms and funding from the Fianna Fáil
-led Irish government
in 1969, resulting in the Arms trial
. Roughly £100,000 was donated by the Irish government to "Defence Committees" in Catholic areas and, according to historian Richard English
, "there is now no doubt that some money did go from the Dublin government to the proto-Provisionals".
The Provisionals maintained the principles of the pre-1969 IRA, considering British rule in Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Ireland to be illegitimate and that the IRA's Army Council was the legitimate government of the all-island Irish Republic
. This belief was based on a series of perceived political inheritances which constructed a legal continuity from the Second Dáil
The Provisionals inherited most of the existing IRA organisation in the north by 1971 and the more militant IRA members in the rest of Ireland. In addition, they recruited many young nationalists from the north, who had not been involved in the IRA before, but had been radicalised by the communal violence that broke out in 1969. These people were known in republican parlance as "sixty niners", having joined after 1969. The Provisional IRA adopted the Phoenix
as symbol of the Irish republican rebirth in 1969. One of its common slongan is "out of the ashes rose the provisionals".
OrganisationThe IRA is organised hierarchically. At the top of the organisation is the IRA Army Council
, headed by the IRA Chief of Staff.
LeadershipAll levels of the IRA are entitled to send delegates to IRA General Army Conventions (GACs). The GAC is the IRA's supreme decision-making authority. Before 1969, GACs met regularly. Since 1969, there have only been two, in 1970 and 1986, owing to the difficulty in organising such a large gathering of an illegal organisation in secret.
The GAC in turn elects a 12-member IRA Executive, which selects seven volunteers to form the IRA Army Council. For day-to-day purposes, authority is vested in the Army Council which, as well as directing policy and taking major tactical decisions, appoints a Chief of Staff from one of its number or, less commonly, from outside its ranks.
The chief of staff then appoints an adjutant general as well as a General Headquarters (GHQ), which consists of a number of individual departments. These departments are:
- IRA Quartermaster GeneralIRA Quartermaster GeneralThe IRA Quartermaster General runs a department which is responsible for obtaining, concealing and maintaining the store of weaponry of the Irish Republican Army....
- IRA Director of Finance
- IRA Director of Engineering
- IRA Director of Training
- IRA Director of Intelligence
- IRA Director of Publicity
- IRA Director of Operations
- IRA Director of Security
Regional commandAt a regional level, the IRA is divided into a Northern Command, which operates in the nine Ulster counties as well as County Leitrim
and County Louth
, and a Southern Command, operating in the rest of Ireland. The Provisional IRA was originally commanded by a leadership based in Dublin. However, in 1977, parallel to the introduction of cell structures at local level, command of the "war-zone" was given to the Northern Command. According to Ed Moloney
, these moves at reorganisation were the idea of Ivor Bell
, Gerry Adams
and Brian Keenan
BrigadesThe IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers
(or óglaigh in Irish). Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers were organised in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one area formed a company
as part of a battalion
, which could be part of a brigade
, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.
For most of its existence, the IRA had five Brigade areas within what it referred to as the "war-zone". These Brigades were located in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Donegal and Tyrone/Monaghan. The Belfast Brigade
had three battalions, respectively in the west, north and east of the city. In the early years of the Troubles
, the IRA in Belfast expanded rapidly. In August 1969, the Belfast Brigade had just 50 active members. By the end of 1971, it had 1,200 members, giving it a large but loosely controlled structure. Derry
city had one battalion and the South Derry Brigade. The Derry Battalion became the Derry Brigade in 1972 after a rapid increase in membership following Bloody Sunday
when British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed demonstrators at a civil rights march. County Armagh had three battalions, two very active ones in South Armagh and a less active unit in North Armagh. For this reason the Armagh IRA unit is often referred to as the South Armagh Brigade
. Similarly, the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade, which operated from around the Border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is often called the East Tyrone Brigade
. Fermanagh, South Down and North Antrim had units not attached to Brigades. The leadership structure at battalion and company level was the same: each had its own commanding officer, quartermaster, explosives officer and intelligence officer. There was sometimes a training officer or finance officer.
Active service unitsIn 1977, the IRA moved away from the larger conventional military organisational principle owing to its perceived security vulnerability. A system of two parallel types of unit within an IRA brigade was introduced in place of the battalion structures. Firstly, the old "company" structures were used for tasks such as "policing" nationalist areas, intelligence gathering, and hiding weapons. These were essential support activities. However, the bulk of actual attacks were the responsibility of a second type of unit, the active service unit
(ASU). To improve security and operational capacity, these ASUs were smaller, tight-knit cells, usually consisting of five to eight members. The ASU's weapons were controlled by a quartermaster
under the direct control of the IRA leadership. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was estimated that the IRA had roughly 300 members in ASUs and about another 450 serving in supporting roles.
The exception to this reorganisation was the South Armagh Brigade
, which retained its traditional hierarchy and battalion structure and used relatively large numbers of volunteers in its actions.
The IRA's Southern Command, located in the Republic of Ireland, consists of a Dublin Brigade and a number of smaller units in rural areas. These were charged mainly with the importation and storage of arms for the Northern units and with raising finances through robberies and other means. They also maintained a sizable presence in North Kerry, where many training camps were based.
Initial phaseFollowing the violence of August 1969, the IRA began to arm and train to protect nationalist areas from further attack. After the Provisional's split from the Official IRA the Provisional IRA began planning for an all-out offensive action against what it claimed was British occupation.
The Official IRA were opposed to such a campaign because they felt it would lead to sectarian conflict, which would defeat their strategy of uniting the workers from both sides of the sectarian divide. The IRA Border Campaign
in the 1950s had avoided actions in urban centres of Northern Ireland to avoid civilian casualties and resulting sectarian violence. The Provisional IRA, by contrast, was primarily an urban organisation, based originally in Belfast and Derry.
The Provisional IRA's strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict casualties on the British forces such that the British government be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland. According to journalist Brendan O'Brien, "the thinking was that the war would be short and successful. Chief of Staff Seán Mac Stíofáin decided they would 'escalate, escalate and escalate' until the British agreed to go". This policy involved recruitment of volunteers and carrying out attacks on British forces, as well as mounting a bombing campaign against economic targets. In the early years of the conflict, IRA slogans spoke of, "Victory 1972" and then "Victory 1974". Its inspiration was the success of the "Old IRA
" in the Irish War of Independence
(1919–1922). In their assessment of the IRA campaign, the British Army would describe these years, 1970–72, as the "insurgency phase".
The British government held secret talks with the IRA leadership in 1972 to try and secure a ceasefire based on a compromise settlement within Northern Ireland after the events of Bloody Sunday
when IRA recruitment and support increased. The IRA agreed to a temporary ceasefire from 26 June to 9 July. In July 1972, Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill
, Ivor Bell
, Seamus Twomey
, Gerry Adams
and Martin McGuinness
met a British delegation led by William Whitelaw. The Irish republicans refused to consider a peace settlement that did not include a commitment to British withdrawal, a retreat of the British Army to its barracks, and a release of republican prisoners. The British refused and the talks broke up.
Éire Nua and the 1975 ceasefireThe Provisionals' goal in this period was the abolition of both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland states and their replacement with a new all-Ireland federal
republic, with decentralised governments and parliaments for each of the four Irish historic provinces. This programme was known as Éire Nua
(New Ireland). The Éire Nua programme remained policy until discontinued by the Provisionals under the leadership of Gerry Adams in the early 1980s in favour of the pursuit of a new unitary
By the mid 1970s, the hopes of the IRA leadership for a quick military victory were receding. The British military was unsure of when it would see any substantial success against the IRA. Secret meetings between Provisional IRA leaders Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Billy McKee
with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Merlyn Rees secured an IRA ceasefire which began in February 1975. The IRA initially believed that this was the start of a long-term process of British withdrawal, but later came to the conclusion that Rees was trying to bring them into peaceful politics without offering them any guarantees. Critics of the IRA leadership, most notably Gerry Adams, felt that the ceasefire was disastrous for the IRA, leading to infiltration by British informers, the arrest of many activists and a breakdown in IRA discipline resulting in sectarian killings and a feud with fellow republicans in the Official IRA
. By early 1976, the IRA leadership, short of money, weapons and members, was on the brink of calling off the campaign. The ceasefire, however, broke down in January 1976.
The "Long War"
, an acceptance that their campaign would last many years before being successful and an increased emphasis on political activity through the Sinn Féin
party. A republican document of the early 1980s states, "Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign... Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement". The 1977 edition of the Green Book
, an induction and training manual used by the Provisionals, describes the strategy of the "Long War" in these terms:
- A war of attritionAttrition warfareAttrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....
against enemy personnel [British Army] based on causing as many deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their [the British] people at home for their withdrawal.
- A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy's financial interests in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term investment in our country.
- To make the Six Counties... ungovernable except by colonial military rule.
- To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.
- By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.
Confidential documents released on 30 December 2008 from the British state archives show that the IRA leadership proposed a ceasefire and peace talks to the British government in 1978. The British refused the offer. Prime Minister James Callaghan
decided that there should be "positive rejection" of the approach on the basis that the republicans were not serious and "see their campaign as a long haul". Irish State documents from the same period say that the IRA had made a similar offer to the British the previous year. An Irish Defence Forces
document, dated 15 February 1977, states that "It is now known that feelers were sent out at Christmas by the top PIRA leadership to interest the British authorities in another long ceasefire."
1981 hunger strikes and electoral politicsIRA prisoners convicted after March 1976 did not have Special Category Status
applied in prison. In response, over 500 prisoners refused to wash or wear prison clothes (see Dirty protest
and Blanket protest
). This activity culminated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike
, when seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army
members starved themselves to death in pursuit of political status. The hunger strike leader Bobby Sands
and Anti H-Block
activist Owen Carron
were elected to the British Parliament, and two other protesting prisoners were elected to the Irish Dáil. In addition, there were work stoppages and large demonstrations all over Ireland in sympathy with the hunger strikers. Over 100,000 people attended the funeral of Sands, the first hunger striker to die.
After the success of IRA hunger strikers in mobilising support and winning elections on an Anti H-Block
platform in 1981, republicans increasingly devoted time and resources to electoral politics, through the Sinn Féin party. Danny Morrison
summed up this policy at a 1981 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis
(annual meeting) as a "ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other". (See Armalite and ballot box strategy
"TUAS" – peace strategyAccording to author Ed Moloney
, the IRA made an attempt to escalate the conflict with the so called "Tet Offensive" in the 1980s. When this did not prove successful, republican leaders increasingly looked for a political compromise to end the conflict. Gerry Adams entered talks with John Hume
, the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP) and secret talks were also conducted with British civil servants. Thereafter, Adams increasingly tried to disassociate Sinn Féin from the IRA, claiming they were separate organisations and refusing to speak on behalf of the IRA. Within the Republican Movement
(the IRA and Sinn Féin), the new strategy was described by the acronym "TUAS", meaning either "Tactical Use of Armed Struggle" or "Totally Unarmed Strategy".
The IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin
would be included in political talks for a settlement. When this did not happen, the IRA called off its ceasefire from February 1996 until July 1997, carrying out several bombing and shooting attacks. The bombings caused severe economic damage, with the Manchester bombing and the Docklands bombing causing approximately £500 million in combined damage. After its ceasefire was reinstated, Sinn Féin was re-admitted into the "peace process
", which produced the Belfast Agreement
Weaponry and operations
the Provisional IRA was very poorly armed, mainly with old World War II weaponry such as M1 Garand
s and Thompson submachine gun
s, but starting in the early 1970s it procured large amounts of modern weaponry from such sources as supporters in the United States, Libya
n leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi
, and arms dealers in Europe, America, the Middle East and elsewhere.
From 1971–1994, the IRA launched a sustained offensive armed campaign that mainly targeted the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary
(RUC), the Ulster Defence Regiment
(UDR), and economic targets in Northern Ireland. The first half of the 1970s was the most intense period of the IRA campaign. In addition, some IRA volunteers engaged in reprisal attacks against Protestant civilians, although killing civilians was against IRA rules.
, West Germany and the Netherlands. By the early 1990s, the bulk of the IRA activity was carried out by the South Armagh Brigade, well known through its sniping operations
and attacks on British Army helicopters. The bombing campaign principally targeted political, economic and military targets, and approximately 60 civilians were killed by the IRA in England during the conflict. It has been argued that this bombing campaign helped convince the British government (who had hoped to contain the conflict to Northern Ireland with its Ulsterisation
policy) to negotiate with Sinn Féin
after the IRA ceasefires of August 1994 and July 1997.
Ceasefires and decommissioning of armsOn 31 August 1994, the Provisional IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire. However, from February 1996 until July 1997, the Provisional IRA called off its 1994 ceasefire because of its dissatisfaction with the state of negotiations. They re-instated the ceasefire in July 1997, and it has been in operation since then.
The Provisional IRA decommissioned all of its arms between July and September 2005. The decommissioning of its weaponry was supervised by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
(IICD). Among the weaponry estimated (by Jane's Information Group
) to have been destroyed as part of this process were:
- 1,000 rifleRifleA rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...
- 3 tonnes of SemtexSemtexSemtex is a general-purpose plastic explosive containing RDX and PETN. It is used in commercial blasting, demolition, and in certain military applications. Semtex became notoriously popular with terrorists because it was, until recently, extremely difficult to detect, as in the case of Pan Am...
- 20–30 heavy machine gunHeavy machine gunThe heavy machine gun or HMG is a larger class of machine gun generally recognized to refer to two separate stages of machine gun development. The term was originally used to refer to the early generation of machine guns which came into widespread use in World War I...
- 7 surface-to-air missiles (unused)
- 7 flamethrowerFlamethrowerA flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...
- 1,200 detonatorDetonatorA detonator is a device used to trigger an explosive device. Detonators can be chemically, mechanically, or electrically initiated, the latter two being the most common....
- 20 rocket-propelled grenade launchers
- 100 handgunHandgunA handgun is a firearm designed to be held and operated by one hand. This characteristic differentiates handguns as a general class of firearms from long guns such as rifles and shotguns ....
- 100+ hand grenadeHand grenadeA hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...
Having compared the weapons destroyed with the British security forces' estimates of the IRA weaponry, and because of the IRA's full involvement in the process of destroying the weapons, the IICD arrived at their conclusion that all Provisional IRA weaponry has been destroyed. Since the process of decommissioning was completed, unnamed sources in MI5
and the Police Service of Northern Ireland
(PSNI) have reported to the press that not all IRA arms were destroyed during the process. This claim remains unsubstantiated so far. In its report dated April 2006 the Independent Monitoring Commission
(IMC) points out that it has no reason to disbelieve the IRA or information to suspect that the group has not fully decommissioned. Rather, it indicated that any weaponry that had not been handed in had been retained by individuals outside the IRA's control. The Russian and British Intelligence services alleged that during the decommissioning process the IRA secretly purchased a consignment of high-powered Russian special forces AN-94
rifles in Moscow.
Other activitiesApart from its armed campaign, the IRA has also been involved in many other activities.
Alleged involvement in organised crimeAs with other paramilitary groups and similar organisations, the IRA and its members have allegedly been involved in many other activities, including racketeering, bank robbery, fuel laundering, and kidnapping.
In 2004, £26.5m was stolen
from the Northern Bank's
vaults in Belfast city centre. The British and Irish governments agreed with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland's report blaming the robbery on the IRA. On 18 January 2005, the IRA issued a two-line statement denying any involvement in the robbery: "The IRA has been accused of involvement in the recent Northern Bank robbery. We were not involved". In February 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission's
Fourth Report stated their belief that the robbery was carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the IRA's leadership. Commentators including Suzanne Breen
have stated that the IRA was the only organisation capable of carrying out the raid. In May 2009, two men were arrested in Cork
, and charged with IRA membership and offences relating to the robbery.
According to several sources, the organisation has also been involved in the Irish drugs trade. A 1999 report by John Horgan
and Max Taylor
cited Royal Ulster Constabulary
reports, alleging that this involves the "licensing" of drug operations to criminal gangs and the payment of protection money, rather than direct involvement. According to Horgan and Taylor's report, the IRA are also involved in several legitimate businesses including taxi firms, construction, restaurants and pubs. The IRA have also been involved in racketeering
, which involves the extortion of money from legitimate businesses for "protection".
Speaking at Sinn Féin 2005 Ard Fheis, Gerry Adams stated that "'There is no place in republicanism for anyone involved in criminality". However, he went on to say "we refuse to criminalize those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives".
Policing of communities
or drug dealing. In certain cases, for persistent offenders the IRA would serve a notice for the individual to leave the country, this was known as being "put out" of the community/country, and the clear message given to individuals served with these notices was that if they returned to the community/country they would be killed. This practice was frequently criticised by all sections of the political establishment in Northern Ireland as "summary justice
InformersIn an effort to stamp out what the IRA termed "collaboration with British forces" and "informing", they killed a number of Catholic civilians, such as Joseph Fenton
. Purges against these individuals, whom the IRA considered traitors to their own community and to the cause of nationalism, were most prevalent when the IRA found itself persistently vulnerable to infiltration. Investigations into informers and infiltration are suspected to have been dealt with by an IRA unit called the Internal Security Unit
(ISU), known colloquially as the "Nutting Squad". This unit is said to be directly attached to IRA GHQ. Where a confession was solicited, the victim was often exiled or executed with a bullet in the back of the head. The body was either buried or, later in the IRA campaign, left in a public place, often in South Armagh.
One particular example of the killing of a person deemed by the IRA to have been an informer that is the source of continuing controversy is that of Jean McConville
from Belfast, who was killed by the IRA. Ed Moloney
and IRA sources continue to claim she was an informer despite the Police Ombudsman
recently stating that this was not the case. The Social Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP) have described the killing as a "war crime
". Her family contend that she was killed as a punishment for aiding a dying British soldier in West Belfast, although this claim is completely unsubstantiated.
In March 2007, Police Ombudsman
announced that there would be an inquiry into claims of collusion between IRA members and the British security forces.
Attacks on other republican paramilitary groupsThe IRA has also feuded with other republican paramilitary groups such as the Official IRA
in the 1970s and the Irish People's Liberation Organisation
in the 1990s.
Leading Real Irish Republican Army
(RIRA) member Joseph O'Connor was shot dead in Ballymurphy
, west Belfast on 11 October 2000. Claims have been made by O'Connor's family and people associated with the RIRA that he was killed by the IRA as the result of a feud between the organisations. but Sinn Féin denied the claims. No-one has been charged with his killing.
CasualtiesThis is a summary. For a detailed breakdown of casualties caused by and inflicted on the IRA see Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997#Casualties
The IRA was responsible for more deaths than any other group during the Troubles. Two very detailed studies of deaths in the Troubles, the CAIN project at the University of Ulster
, and Lost Lives, differ slightly on the numbers killed by the Provisional IRA, but a rough synthesis gives a figure of 1,800 deaths. Of these, roughly 1,100 were members of the security forces: British Army
, Royal Ulster Constabulary
and Ulster Defence Regiment
; between 600 and 650 were civilians and the remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitaries (including over 100 IRA members accidentally killed by their own bombs or shot after being exposed as security force agents).
The IRA lost a little under 300 members killed in the Troubles. In addition, roughly 50–60 members of Sinn Féin
were killed. Far more common than the killing of IRA volunteers, however, was their imprisonment. Journalists Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop estimate in their book The Provisional IRA that roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest (senior officers are required to surrender their post after being arrested), retiring from the armed campaign or "disillusionment". They give 10,000 as the total number of past and present IRA members at that time.
CategorisationThe IRA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000
. In Northern Ireland, the IRA are referred to as terrorists by the Ulster Unionist Party
, the Democratic Unionist Party
, and the Progressive Unionist Party
. Members of the IRA are tried in the Republic of Ireland in the Special Criminal Court
. On the island of Ireland, the largest political party to state that the IRA is not a terrorist organisation is Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is widely regarded as the political wing of the IRA, but the party insists that the two organisations are separate. Peter Mandelson
, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
, contrasted the post-1997 activities of the IRA with those of Al-Qaeda
, describing the latter as "terrorists" and the former as "freedom fighters" (though Mandelson subsequently denied this sentiment). The IRA prefer the terms freedom fighter, soldier
, or volunteer
The IRA described its actions throughout "The Troubles" as a military campaign waged against the British Army, the RUC, other security forces, judiciary, loyalist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, England and Europe. The IRA considers these groups to be all part of the same apparatus. As noted above, the IRA seeks to draw a direct descendancy from the original IRA and those who engaged in the Irish War of Independence
. The IRA sees the previous conflict as a guerrilla war which accomplished some of its aims, with some remaining "unfinished business". The IRA considers its members guerrillas fighting a war.
A process called "Criminalisation" was begun in the mid 1970s as part of a British strategy of "Criminalisation, Ulsterisation, and Normalisation". The policy was outlined in a 1975 British strategy paper titled "The Way Ahead", which was not published but was referred to by Labour's first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees, and came to be the dominant British political theme in the conflict as it raged into the 1980s.
Another categorisation avoids the terms "guerrilla" or "terrorist" but does view the conflict in military terms. The phrase originated with the British military strategist Frank Kitson
who was active in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. In Kitson's view, the violence of the IRA represented an "insurrection" situation, with the enveloping atmosphere of belligerence representing a "low intensity conflict
" — a conflict where the forces involved in fighting operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer combatants, at a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner.
Membership of the IRA remains illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but IRA prisoners convicted of offences committed before 1998 have been granted conditional early release as part of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In the United Kingdom a person convicted of membership of a "proscribed organisation", such as the IRA, still nominally faces imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Strength and support
Numerical strengthIn the early to mid 1970s, the numbers recruited by the Provisional IRA may have reached several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organised its structures from 1977 onwards. An RUC
report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland. This does not take into consideration the IRA units in the Republic of Ireland or those in Britain, continental Europe, and throughout the world. In 2005, the then Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell
told the Dáil
that the organisation had "between 1,000 and 1,500" active members. According to the book The Provisional IRA (by Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest, "retirement" or disillusionment. In later years, the IRA's strength has been somewhat weakened by members leaving the organisation to join hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. According to former Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, these organisations have little more than 150 members each.
Electoral and popular supportThe popular support for the IRA's campaign in the Troubles is hard to gauge, given that Sinn Féin, the IRA's political wing, did not stand in elections until the early 1980s. Most nationalists in Northern Ireland voted for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP) until 2001. After the 1981 hunger strike
, Sinn Féin mobilised large electoral support and won 105,000 votes, or 43% of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom general election, 1983
, only 34,000 votes behind the SDLP. However, by the 1992 UK General Election, the SDLP won 184,445 votes and four seats to Sinn Féin's 78,291 votes and no seats. In the 1993 Local District Council Elections in Northern Ireland
, the SDLP won 136,760 votes to Sinn Féin's 77,600 votes.
Few Protestant voters voted for Sinn Féin. In 1992, many of them voted for SDLP West Belfast
candidate Joe Hendron
rather than a unionist candidate in order to make sure Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin lost his seat in the constituency.
in 1987 (Remembrance Day bombing
), and the death of two children
when a bomb exploded in Warrington
, which led to tens of thousands of people demonstrating on O'Connell Street
in Dublin to call for an end to the IRA's campaign. Sinn Féin
did very badly in elections in the Republic of Ireland
during the IRA's campaign. For example, in the December 1981 local government elections, Sinn Féin candidates won just 5% of the popular vote. By the 1987 Irish General Election, they won only 1.7% of the votes cast. They did not make significant electoral gains in the Republic until after the IRA ceasefires and the Belfast Agreement of 1998. By the 2011 Irish general election Sinn Féin's proportion of the popular vote had reached 9.9 percent.
Sinn Féin now has 27 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (out of 108), five Westminster
MPs (out of 18 from Northern Ireland) and 14 Republic of Ireland TDs
(out of 166).
Support from other countries and organisationsThe IRA have had contacts with foreign governments and other illegal armed organisations.
Libya has been the biggest single supplier of arms and funds to the IRA, donating large amounts: three shipments of arms in the early 1970s and another three in the mid 1980s, the latter reputedly enough to arm two regular infantry battalions.
The IRA has also received weapons and logistical support from Irish American
s in the United States, especially the NORAID
group. Apart from the Libyan aid, this has been the main source of overseas IRA support. American support has been weakened by the War against Terrorism
, and the fallout from the events of 11 September 2001.
In the United States in November 1982, five men were acquitted of smuggling arms to the IRA after they claimed the Central Intelligence Agency
had approved the shipment, although the CIA denied this. There are allegations of contact with the East German Stasi
, based on the testimony of a Soviet defector to British intelligence Vasili Mitrokhin
. Mitrokhin revealed that although the Soviet KGB
gave some weapons to the Marxist Official IRA
, it had little sympathy with the Provisionals. The IRA has received some training and support from the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO). In 1977, the Provisionals received a 'sizeable' arms shipment from the PLO, including small arms, rocket launchers and explosives, but this was intercepted at Antwerp after the Israel
i intelligence alerted its European counterparts. In the 1980s, the Provisionals also had some contact with Hezbollah.
It has been alleged that the IRA had a co-operative relationship with Basque militant group ETA
since the early 1970s. In 1973 it was accused of providing explosives for the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco
in Madrid. In the 1970s, ETA also exchanged a quantity of handguns for training in explosives with the IRA. In addition, the leaders of the political wings of the respective Irish republican and Basque separatist movements have exchanged visits on several occasions to express solidarity with each others' cause. Prominent former IRA prisoners such as Brendan McFarlane
and Brendan Hughes
have campaigned for the release of ETA prisoners. In the mid 1990s after the IRA ceasefire, Basque media outlets followed the process carefully, sending a team to follow the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday as they campaigned for apology.
In May 1996, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's internal security service, publicly accused Estonia
of arms smuggling, and claimed that the IRA had contacted representatives of Estonia's volunteer defense force, Kaitseliit, and some non-government groups to buy weapons. In 2001, three Irish men, who later became known as the Colombia Three
, were arrested after allegedly training Colombian guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), in bomb making and urban warfare techniques. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in its report of 24 April 2002 concluded "Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for these specific terror tactics now being employed by the FARC, other than IRA training".
The Belfast AgreementThe IRA ceasefire
in 1997 formed part of a process that led to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. One aim of the Agreement is that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000.
Calls from Sinn Féin led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that was monitored by Canadian General John de Chastelain's
in October 2001. However, following the collapse of the Stormont
power-sharing government in 2002, which was partly triggered by allegations that republican spies were operating within Parliament Buildings and the Civil Service, the IRA temporarily broke off contact with General de Chastelain.
In December 2004, attempts to persuade the IRA to disarm entirely collapsed when the Democratic Unionist Party, under Ian Paisley
, insisted on photographic evidence. Justice Minister Michael McDowell (in public, and often) insisted that there would need to be a complete end to IRA activity.
At the beginning of February 2005, the IRA declared that it was withdrawing from the disarmament process, but in July 2005 it declared that its campaign of violence was over, and that transparent mechanisms would be used, under the de Chastelain process, to satisfy the Northern Ireland communities that it was disarming totally.
End of the armed campaignOn 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign. In a statement read by Séanna Breathnach
, the organisation stated that it had instructed its members to dump all weapons and not to engage in "any other activities whatsoever" apart from assisting "the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means". Furthermore, the organisation authorised its representatives to engage immediately with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
(IICD) to verifiably put its arms beyond use "in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible".
This is not the first time that organisations styling themselves IRA have issued orders to dump arms. After its defeat in the Irish Civil War
in 1924 and at the end of its unsuccessful Border Campaign
in 1962, the IRA Army Council issued similar orders. However, this is the first time in Irish republicanism that any organisation has voluntarily decided to dispose of its arms.
On 25 September 2005, international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the IRA, a long-sought goal of Northern Ireland's peace process. The office of IICD Chairman John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general who oversaw the weapons' decommissioning at secret locations, released details regarding the scrapping of many tons of IRA weaponry at a news conference in Belfast on 26 September. He said the arms had been "put beyond use" and that they were "satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA's arsenal."
The IRA permitted two independent witnesses, including a Methodist minister, Rev. Harold Good, and Father Alec Reid
, a Roman Catholic priest close to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, to view the secret disarmament work. Ian Paisley
, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party
(DUP), complained that since the witnesses were appointed by the IRA themselves, rather than being appointed by the British or Irish governments, they therefore could not be said to be unbiased witnesses to the decommissioning. Nationalists and Catholics viewed his comments as reflecting his refusal to support devolution in Northern Ireland with Catholics in power.
In 2011 Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "The war is over. The IRA is gone. The IRA embraced, facilitated and supported the peace process. When a democratic and peaceful alternative to armed struggle was created the IRA left the stage."
Continuing activities of IRA membersThe 10th report published in April 2006 from the Independent Monitoring Commission
(IMC), an organisation monitoring activity by paramilitary groups on behalf of the British and Irish governments, prefaced its remarks about IRA activity by commenting that the IRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path and that in the last three months this process has involved the further dismantling of the IRA as a military structure.
The report commented that there was no paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the leadership; there is a substantial erosion in the IRA's capacity to return to a military campaign; and, that the IRA had no intentions of returning to violence. However the IMC report also noted that following decommissioning, the IRA still retained a considerable amount of weaponry beyond what was needed for self defence.
The IMC has come in for criticism (mainly by republicans) as having been set up outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement as a sop to Unionism. Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy stated that the IMC was established outside and in breach of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that it is politically biased, and had an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.
On 4 October 2006, the IMC ruled that the IRA were no longer a threat.
In late 2008, the The Sunday Times
quoted a senior Garda intelligence officer as saying that "the IRA had recruited in recent years, still held arms despite apparently decommissioning the lot, and was being maintained in 'shadow form.'" The Gardaí also said that the IRA was still capable of carrying out attacks. A senior member of the PSNI, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, said that it was unlikely that the IRA would disband in the foreseeable future.
At the end of March 2010, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley
said that the IRA were still active and that they had been responsible for a number of incidents in his constituency including a punishment shooting and an armed robbery during which a shot was fired.
In August 2010, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement
, the Republican Network for Unity
and the UPRG, claimed that the IRA were responsible for a shooting incident in the Gobnascale area of Derry. It is claimed that up to 20 masked men, some armed with handguns, attacked a group of teenagers who were engaging in anti-social behaviour at an interface area
. A number of the teenagers were attacked and shots were fired into the air. The men are then reported to have removed their masks when the PSNI arrived and were subsequently identified as members of the Republican Movement. Sinn Féin denied the IRA were involved.
"P. O'Neill"The IRA traditionally uses a well-known signature in its public statements, which are all issued under the pseudonym
of "P. O'Neill" of the "Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin". According to Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, it was Seán Mac Stiofáin, as chief of staff of the IRA, who invented the name. However, under his usage, the name was written and pronounced according to Irish orthography
and pronunciation as "P. Ó Néill". According to Danny Morrison
, the pseudonym
"S. O'Neill" was used during the 1940s.
Ó Brádaigh maintains that there is no particular significance to the name.
InformersThroughout the Troubles, some members of the IRA passed information to the security forces. Members of the IRA suspected of being informants were usually executed after an IRA "court-martial". In the 1980s, many more IRA members were imprisoned on the testimony of former IRA members known as "supergrasses
" such as Raymond Gilmour
In recent years, there have been some high profile allegations of senior IRA figures having been British informers. In May 2003, a number of newspapers named Freddie Scappaticci
as the alleged identity of the British Force Research Unit's
most senior informer within the Provisional IRA, code-named Stakeknife
, who is thought to have been head of the IRA's internal security force, charged with rooting out and executing informers. Scappaticci denies that this is the case and, in 2003, failed in a legal bid to force the then NIO Minister, Jane Kennedy
, to state he was not an informer. She has refused to do so, and since then Scappaticci has not launched any libel actions against the media making the allegations.
On 16 December 2005, senior Sinn Féin member Denis Donaldson
appeared before TV cameras in Dublin and confessed to being a British spy for twenty years. He was expelled from Sinn Féin and was said to have been debriefed by the party. Donaldson was a former Provisional IRA volunteer and subsequently highly placed Sinn Féin party member. Donaldson had been entrusted by Gerry Adams with the running of Sinn Féin's operations in the U.S. in the early 1990s. On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead at his retreat near Glenties
in County Donegal
. When asked whether he felt Donaldson's role as an informer in Sinn Féin was significant, the IRA double agent using the pseudonym "Kevin Fulton
" described Donaldson's role as a spy within Sinn Féin as "the tip of the iceberg". The Real IRA claim responsibility for his assassination on 12 April 2009. The former Force Research Unit and MI5
operative using the pseudonym "Martin Ingram
" concurs with "Kevin Fulton" and has alleged that Gerry Adams knew that Donaldson was an agent. Ingram was described in court as a Walter Mitty
type character. Ingram has also claimed that Martin McGuinness
is a British agent. As evidence for this claim he alleges that McGuinness was involved in the death of IRA volunteer and FRU agent Frank Hegarty in May 1986. McGuinness has denied any involvement in the Hegarty case and brushed off allegations that he is a spy.
On 8 February 2008, Roy McShane was taken into police protection after being unmasked as an informer. McShane, a former IRA member, had been Gerry Adams' personal driver for many years. Adams said he was "too philosophical" to feel betrayed.
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