The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an Irish republican paramilitary 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 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 glaigh na h ireann ("The Irish Volunteers") in the Irish language.
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 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 F in.
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 F in 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 F in would be included in political talks for a settlement. When the British government then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn F in 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 F in was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
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.
An IRA badge the Phoenix is frequently used to symbolise the origins of the Provisional IRA. In 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 role 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, D ith 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 D il, 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, Se n Mac St of in, 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 St of in and Ruair Br daigh, refused to go forward for election to the new IRA Executive.
While others canvassed support throughout Ireland, Mac St of in 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 Se n Mac St of in, Ruair Br daigh, 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 D il ireann 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 F in 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 F in, 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 F il-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 D il.
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 slogans is "out of the ashes rose the provisionals".
The IRA is organised hierarchically. At the top of the organisation is the IRA Army Council, headed by the IRA Chief of Staff.
All 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:
Republican colour party in Dublin March 2009. The blue flag being carried at the front is that of "Dublin Brigade IRA" At 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.
The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers (or glaigh 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 units
In 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 sizeable presence in North Kerry, where many training camps were based.
Strategy 1969 1998
Following 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 Se n Mac St of in 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, Se n Mac St of in, D ith 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.
ire Nua and the 1975 ceasefire
The 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 ire Nua (New Ireland). The ire 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 all-Ireland Republic.
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 Ruair Br daigh 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"
Thereafter, the IRA, under the leadership of Adams and his supporters, evolved a new strategy termed the "Long War", which underpinned IRA strategy for the rest of the Troubles. It involved a re-organisation of the IRA into small cells, an acceptance that their campaign would last many years before being successful and an increased emphasis on political activity through the Sinn F in party. A republican document of the early 1980s states, "Both Sinn F in and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign... Sinn F in 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:
IRA political poster from the 1980s, featuring a quote from Bobby Sands
- A war of attrition 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 politics
Provisional IRA funeral, 1981 IRA 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 D il. 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 F in party. Danny Morrison summed up this policy at a 1981 Sinn F in 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 strategy
According 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 F in 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 F in), 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 F in 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 F in was re-admitted into the "peace process", which produced the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
Weaponry and operations
In the early days of the Troubles the Provisional IRA was very poorly armed, mainly with old World War II weaponry such as M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns, but starting in the early 1970s it procured large amounts of modern weaponry from such sources as supporters in the United States, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and arms dealers in Europe, America, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Mural in Derry depicting IRA weapons, 1986
In the first years of the conflict, the IRA's main activities were providing firepower to support nationalist rioters and defending nationalist areas from attacks. The IRA gained much of its support from these activities, as they were widely perceived within the nationalist community as being defenders of Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic people against aggression.
The Armalite AR-18
, obtained by the IRA from the United States in the early 1970s and an emotive symbol of its armed campaign
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.
The IRA was chiefly active in Northern Ireland, although it took its campaign to England and mainland Europe. The IRA also targeted certain British government officials, politicians, judges, establishment figures, British Army and police officers in England, and in other areas such as the Republic of Ireland, 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 F in after the IRA ceasefires of August 1994 and July 1997.
This screenshot shows an IRA unit loading an improvised mortar in 1992
Ceasefires and decommissioning of arms
On 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:
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.
Apart from its armed campaign, the IRA has also been involved in many other activities.
Alleged involvement in organised crime
As 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 F in 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 criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives".
Policing of communities
The IRA saw itself as the police force of nationalist areas of Northern Ireland during the Troubles instead of the RUC. There were a number of reasons for this. In many Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, the RUC and British Army, as a result of their conduct and perceived involvement in oppression and violence against Nationalists, were considered biased and untrustworthy, and so were not welcome. Also, the RUC and other forces of the authorities were, in some instances, reluctant to enter or patrol certain Nationalist areas unless it was in armoured Land Rovers and in convoy. Police stations were also heavily armoured because of persistent attacks from the IRA. This gave them the appearance of being fortresses. Therefore, the community would turn to the IRA first to deal with troublemakers or those practising what came to be called "anti-social behaviour". In efforts to stamp out "anti-social behaviour" and alleged instances of drug dealing reported to or noticed by the organisation, the IRA killed or otherwise attacked suspected drug dealers and other suspected criminals. These attacks varied in severity and depended on various factors. In the first instance, the IRA may serve a caution on the perceived offender, with further transgressions escalated to an attack known as a "punishment beating". Shooting the offender was seen as a last resort. The process which the IRA went through to determine an offender's "guilt" or "innocence" was never open to debate or scrutiny. The IRA also engaged in attacks that broke the bones of alleged offenders, or involved shooting through the hands, or knees for persistent offenders of activities such as joyriding 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".
In 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.
In March 2007, Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan announced that there would be an inquiry into claims of collusion between IRA members and the British security forces.
Attacks on other republican paramilitary groups
The 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 F in denied the claims. No-one has been charged with his killing.
This is a summary. For a detailed breakdown of casualties caused by and inflicted on the IRA see Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997
An IRA signpost with the word "Provoland" underneath in Omagh, County Tyrone. 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 F in 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.
The 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 F in. Sinn F in 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 organisation has also been described as a "private army" by a number of commentators and politicians. 
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 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
Republican mural, Derry 1986, with evidence of vandalism
In 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 D il 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 support
The popular support for the IRA's campaign in the Troubles is hard to gauge, given that Sinn F in, 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 F in 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 F in'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 F in's 77,600 votes.
Few Protestant voters voted for Sinn F in. 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 F in lost his seat in the constituency. A Provisional IRA wall mural in Coalisland, County Tyrone
The IRA enjoyed some popular support in the Republic of Ireland in the early 70s. However, the movement's appeal was hurt badly by bombings such as the killing of civilians attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen 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. In 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 F in's proportion of the popular vote had reached 9.9 percent.
Sinn F in 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 organisations
The 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 Americans 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 Israeli 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 defence 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 Agreement
The 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 F in led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that was monitored by Canadian General John de Chastelain's decommissioning body 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 campaign
On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign. In a statement read by S anna 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 F in 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 F in 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 members
The 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 F in 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 F in 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 Garda 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 F in denied the IRA were involved.
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 Ruair Br daigh, it was Se n Mac Stiof in, 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. N ill". According to Danny Morrison, the pseudonym "S. O'Neill" was used during the 1940s.
Br daigh maintains that there is no particular significance to the name.
Throughout 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 F in member Denis Donaldson appeared before TV cameras in Dublin and confessed to being a British spy for twenty years. He was expelled from Sinn F in and was said to have been debriefed by the party. Donaldson was a former Provisional IRA volunteer and subsequently highly placed Sinn F in party member. Donaldson had been entrusted by Gerry Adams with the running of Sinn F in'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 F in was significant, the IRA double agent using the pseudonym "Kevin Fulton" described Donaldson's role as a spy within Sinn F in 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.
Martin Dillon, 25 Years of Terror the IRA's War against the British
Richard English, Armed Struggle A History of the IRA, MacMillan, London 2003, ISBN 1-4050-0108-9
Peter Taylor, Provos the IRA and Sinn F in
Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, Penguin, London 2002,
- Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop, The Provisional IRA, Corgi, London 1988. ISBN 0-552-13337-X
Toby Harnden, Bandit Country The IRA and South Armagh, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1999, ISBN 0-340-71736-X
Henry Patterson, The Politics of Illusion; A Political History of the IRA, Serif, London 1997, ISBN 978 1 897959 31 2 http://www.serifbooks.co.uk/books/history/
Paul Bew, Henry Patterson, Peter Gibbon, Northern Ireland, 1921 - 2001, Serif, London, 2002, ISBN 978 1 897959 38 1 http://www.serifbooks.co.uk/books/history/
Brendan O'Brien, The Long War The IRA and Sinn F in. O'Brien Press, Dublin 1995, ISBN 0-86278-359-3
Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles,
- Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA: A History (1994)
Tony Geraghty, The Irish War, 1998 ISBN 0801864569
David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton, David McVea, Lost Lives.
J Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army The IRA, 1997 3rd Edition, ISBN 1-85371-813-0
- Christopher Andrews, The Mitrokhin Archive (also published as The Sword and the Shield)
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