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Provisional Irish Republican Army

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The Provisional Irish Republican Army (commonly referred to as "the IRA") is a paramilitary group which has attempted, through violence, to achieve two goals:

  1. British military withdrawal from Ireland,
  2. the political unification of Ireland and the creation of an all-Ireland socialist republic.

They are also known as the Irish Republican Army and the 'Provos'. They are most commonly referred to simply as the IRA, although several splinter groups also claim this title (see: Irish Republican Army). In the Irish language they call themselves Óglaigh na hÉireann ("Volunteers of Ireland"), the same title used by the Irish Defence Forces.

The IRA's campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland, against the British Army, as well as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Unionist establishment and, on occasion, the police and army in the Republic of Ireland) played a major role in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It often extended its bombing campaign to England. The IRA has been officially on ceasefire since 1997.

In 6 April 2005 Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called for the IRA to move away permanently from violence. In a speech directed at the "men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann" he said:

"Can you take courageous initiatives which will achieve your aims by purely political and democratic activity? I know that such truly historic decisions can only be taken in the aftermath of intense internal consultation. I ask you to initiate this as quickly as possible."

Contents

Overview

The IRA became the title of the Irish Volunteers during the Anglo-Irish War (Tan War). The Provisional IRA arose in 1969, continuing the aim of severing the political Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and achieving the unification of the island of Ireland, in order to create a socialist republic. It considered British rule on Ireland illegal, the government of the Republic to be illegitimate, and considered itself the legitimate army of the island of Ireland because of a complicated series of perceived political inheritances.

It is organised into small, tight-knit cells under the leadership of the IRA army council. Due to its frequent use of bombs, its killing of hundreds of policemen, soldiers and civilians, predominantly though not exclusively in Northern Ireland, its proscription, its alleged role in racketeering and the fact that the Unionist (or 'Loyalist') majority in Northern Ireland want to continue living under British rule, it is often described as a terrorist groupTemplate:Footnote, although its supporters prefer the label freedom fighter.

IRA attacks on the British security forces (i.e. the British army and the RUC) and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland could be described as guerrilla warfare, so "guerrilla" is a technically accurate term. This definition has been criticised by Unionists and moderate Republicans as suggesting that, in the execution of a guerrilla war, the IRA's actions are legitimate.

Membership of the IRA is illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but PIRA prisoners convicted 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 PIRA, faces imprisonment for up to 10 years.

According to Reuters [1] (http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=6857809) the IRA killed almost 1800 people, 1200 of whom were British soldiers, RUC officers or unionist terrorists. 600 civilians also died at the hands of the IRA, mostly Catholics. Many of the civilians were deliberately killed, for having aided the British army or the RUC. No organisation has killed more IRA members than the IRA itself, as it always dealt with informers ruthlessly, whether they were inside or outside their ranks.

Origins

The Provisional IRA was initially a splinter group of the "Official" IRA, which claimed descent from the "Old" IRA, the guerrilla army of the 1919-1922 Irish Republic. The Official IRA moved to a Marxist analysis of Irish partition, eventually leading to its refusal to defend Catholic communities from the attacks of Protestant mobs for fear of being seen as sectarian, in the mid 1960s. The Provisionals held to a more pragmatic republican analysis and became larger and more successful, eventually overshadowing the original group. The name, the "Provisional" IRA arose when those who were unhappy with the IRA's Army Council formed a "Provisional Army Council" of their own, echoing in turn the "Provisional Government" proclaimed during the Easter Rising of 1916.

The split in the armed wing of the republican movement was mirrored in the separation of the republican political wing. Supporters of the PIRA split from 'Official' Sinn Féin to form Provisional Sinn Féin. Provisional Sinn Féin was later known simply as Sinn Féin while 'Official' Sinn Féin eventually became the Workers' Party, later the Democratic Left. This group eventually merged with the Irish Labour Party, after serving in government with them.

Strength and support

The IRA has several hundred members, as well as tens of thousands of civilian sympathisers on Ireland, mostly in Ulster. However, the movement's appeal was hurt badly by more notorious PIRA bombings widely perceived as 'atrocities', such as the killing of civilians attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen in 1987 (the IRA maintain that their target was a contingent of British soldiers due to pass the cenotaph), and the accidental killing of two children when a bomb went off in Warrington, which led to tens of thousands of people descending on O'Connell Street in Dublin to call for an end to the IRA's campaign of violence. In the 1990s the IRA moved to attacking economic targets, such as the Baltic Exchange and Canary Wharf, the latter of which killed two Pakistanis. The IRA had an official policy of bombing only targets in England (not the Celtic countries of Scotland and Wales), although they exploded a bomb at an oil terminal in the Shetland Isles in 1981 while the Queen of England was performing the official opening of the terminal.

In recent times the movement's strength has been weakened by operatives leaving the organisation to join hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. The PIRA's associated political party, Sinn Féin, until recently received the support of only a minority of nationalists in Northern Ireland, and very few voters in the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Féin now has 24 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (out of 108), 5 Westminster MPs (out of 18 from Northern Ireland) and 5 Republic of Ireland TDs (out of 166). This increase is widely perceived as support for the IRA ceasefire and some commentators maintain this support would decrease if the IRA returned to violence.

In the past, the PIRA has received funds and arms from sympathisers in the United States, notably from the Noraid (Irish Northern Aid) organisation. In the United States in November 1982 five men were acquitted of smuggling arms to the IRA after they revealed the CIA had approved the shipment (although the CIA officially denied this). The IRA has also, on occasion, received assistance from foreign governments and terrorist groups, including considerable training and arms from Libya and assistance from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). U.S. support has been weakened by the so-called "War against Terrorism", the events of the 11 September 2001 and the trial in Colombia of three men (two known members of the IRA and the Sinn Féin representative in Cuba), for allegedly training Colombian FARC guerrillas Template:Footnote. The organisation has also raised funds through smuggling, racketeering and bank robberies.

In February 2005 prominent IRA members were denounced by relatives of Robert McCartney, leading to Gerry Adams advising republicans to give evidence against members of the IRA involved in the murder. Three IRA members were expelled from the organisation over the incident and an offer was made by the organisation to shoot those responsible for the killing. The family of Mr McCartney allege that, nothwithstanding public calls for information by Sinn Féin leaders, no-one has come forward with information to allow a prosecution. They also allege that republican intimidation of witnesses has continued and that even the friend of Mr McCartney who was stabbed with him is too afraid to make a police statement.

The Belfast Agreement

The IRA cease-fire in 1997 formed part of a process that led to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The Agreement has among its aims that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000. This is one of many Agreement aims that have yet to be realised.

Calls from Sinn Féin have led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that has been overviewed by 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 (although no convictions came from the widely-publicised police operation), the IRA temporarily broke contact with General de Chastelain. It is expected that, if and when power-sharing resumes, the IRA disarmament process will begin again, though unionists consider it to be behind schedule. Increasing numbers of people, from the Ulster Unionists under David Trimble and the Social Democratic and Labour Party under Mark Durkan to the Irish Government under Bertie Ahern and the mainstream Irish media, have begun demanding not merely decommissioning but the wholesale disbandment of the PIRA.

In December, 2004, attempts to persuade the IRA to disarm entirely collapsed when the Democratic Unionist Party, under Ian Paisley, insisted on photographic evidence. The IRA stated that this was an attempt at humiliation. The Irish Government (generally in private), and Justice Minister Michael McDowell (in public) also insisted that there would need to be a complete end to IRA activity. This is felt by many to have been a major reason for the collapse of this deal.

At the beginning of February 2005, the IRA declared that it was withdrawing from the disarmament process.

Activities

The Provisional IRA's activities have included bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, 'punishment beatings' of civilians accused of criminal behaviour, robberies and extortion. Previous targets have included the British military, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and Loyalist militants – against all of whom IRA gunmen and bombers fought a guerrilla war.

The IRA has also targeted certain British Government officials, unionist politicians and civilians in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Many civilians assisting or perceived to have been assisting the security forces were killed in Northern Ireland, whilst many British civilians were killed during the IRA bombing campaign in England, which was often directed against civilian targets such as pubs, as well as targets of an economic significance.

One of their most famous victims was Lord Louis Mountbatten, killed along with two children and others on 27 August 1979 in County Sligo, by an IRA bomb placed in his boat.

Also many Catholic civilians have been killed by the IRA for collaboration with the British security forces (i.e. the British army or the RUC). The IRA has also summarily "executed" or otherwise punished suspected drug dealers and other suspected criminals in the past, sometimes after kangaroo trials. IRA members suspected of being British or Irish government informers were also executed, often after interrogation and torture and a kangaroo trial.

Members of the Garda Síochána (the Republic of Ireland's police force) have also been killed; most notorious was the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, who was killed by sustained machine-gun fire, sitting in his car, after the commencement of the IRA ceasefire, while escorting a post office delivery. IRA bombing campaigns have been conducted against rail and London Underground (subway) stations, pubs and shopping areas on the island of Great Britain, and a British military facility on Continental Europe.

There has also been evidence of other non-political activities linked to the organisation. For instance, in the 1970s IRA members kidnapped the racehorse Shergar and attempted to ransom it. Activities such as these were linked to the IRA's fundraising.

The PIRA has been officially on ceasefire since July 1997 (although hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the "Real IRA" continue their campaigns). It previously observed a cease-fire from 1 September 1994 to February 1996, after the Downing Street Declaration, although this was ended when the British government refused to talk to Sinn Féin.

Notable events

  • 1971: First British soldier on security duties, Gunner Curtis, killed by IRA in current campaign in North Belfast. Three unarmed British soldiers abducted while off duty in Belfast and subsequently shot. IRA suspected but responsibility never admitted.
  • 1971: Catholic mother of ten, Jean McConville, is abducted and killed by the Provisional IRA, suspected of informing the British Army of IRA activities. The IRA would deny any involvement in the killing until the 1990s, when it would acknowledge its action. [Northern Ireland]
  • 21 July 1972: On 'Bloody Friday' 22 bombs kill 9 and seriously injure 130. 30 years later the IRA would officially apologise for this set of attacks. [Northern Ireland]
  • 4 February 1974: A bomb planted on a coach carrying British army personnel and their wives and families explodes as it is travelling along the M62 motorway at Birkenshaw. Twelve people are killed; nine soldiers and the wife and two young sons of one of them. [England]
  • 1974: The Guildford pub bombings kills 5 and injures 182. The motive for the bombing was that the pub attacked was frequented by soldiers. Four people, dubbed the 'Guildford Four', would be convicted for the bombing and imprisoned for life. 15 years later Lord Lane of the Court of Appeal would overturn their convictions noting "the investigating officers must have lied". Some had spent the entire fifteen years in prison, years after the IRA men who carried out the attacks admitted them to British police. No police officer was ever charged. [England]
  • 1974: In the Birmingham Pub Bombings bombs in two pubs kill 19. The Birmingham Six' would be tried for this and convicted. Many years later, after new evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, their convictions would be quashed and they would be released. The real bombers had admitted responsibility for the bombings, and this was ignored by British police. [England]
  • 1974: In December a bomb explodes on the first floor of Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. Part of the store is gutted but there are no injuries. [England]
  • 1975: The killing of businessman Ross McWhirter, who had offered reward money to people who informed on the IRA. [England]
  • 1975: The Balcombe Street Siege. [England]
  • 1976: An IRA bomb kills the newly appointed British ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, resulting in the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Republic. The IRA also threatens to kidnap or kill Irish cabinet ministers and the President of Ireland.
  • 22 March 1979 Sir Richard Sykes, British Ambassador to The Netherlands is assassinated in front of his house in The Hague.
  • 1979: An IRA bomb kills Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the British Queen's first cousin, members of his family and a local child off the Irish coast. On the same day the IRA kill 18 British soldiers at Narrow Water, near Newry, County Down; in an attack described by the British government as "a classic guerilla attack", they first plant one bomb, which kills 6, and then begin firing with sniper rifles at soldiers sheltered near a nearby gate where a second bomb explodes, killing 12 others. During an Irish visit, Pope John Paul II calls for the IRA campaign of violence to come to an end. [Ireland]
  • 1981: IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, imprisoned in connection with his involvement in an attack involving a bomb and subsequent gun battle, is elected Member of Parliament for the Northern Ireland constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by-election. The moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party decides not to run a candidate, and so split the nationalist vote, in protest of the British government's handling of the protest. This left Sands as the main nationalist candidate. Sands had been on a hunger strike for 'Prisoner of War' status for 41 days prior to being elected. He died 23 days later. It was estimated that 100,000 people attended his funeral. IRA prisoners were awarded political status by Margaret Thatcher's government, after nine more deaths by hunger strike. [Northern Ireland]
  • 1981: The PIRA kill Ulster Unionist Party Belfast MP Rev Robert Bradford along with the caretaker of a community centre. Irish Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald and former taoiseach and opposition leader Charles Haughey condemn the killings in Dáil Éireann. SDLP party leader John Hume accuses the Provisionals of waging a campaign of "sectarian genocide". [Northern Ireland]
  • 10 October 1981: a bomb blast on Ebury Bridge Road in London kills 2 people and injures 39. [England]
  • 26 October 1981: a bomb explodes at a Wimpy Bar in Oxford Street London killing the bomb disposal officer trying to defuse it. [England]
  • 20 July 1982: In Hyde Park, a bomb kills two members of the Household Cavalry performing ceremonial duties in the park. Seven of their horses are also killed. The deaths of the horses receive almost as much coverage in the English tabloids as those of the men. On the same day another device kills seven bandsmen the Royal Green Jackets as it explodes underneath the bandstand in Regents Park as they played music to spectators. [England]
  • 1983: A Harrods department store bomb planted by the IRA during Christmas shopping season kills six (three police) and wounds 90. [England]
  • 1983: On September 25th, 38 IRA prisoners escape from the maximum security Long Kesh prison. One guard is killed.
  • 1984: In the Brighton hotel bombing a bomb in the Grand Hotel kills five in a failed attempt to assassinate members of the British cabinet. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escapes. [England]
  • 1986: The SAS ambush two IRA cells as they attempted to attack an RUC police station in Loughall. Eight IRA men are killed. Sinn Fein later claim that they were "brutally executed without the right to a trial". [Northern Ireland]
  • 1987: The SAS attack an IRA cell that were planning to detonate a bomb near a public military parade in Gibraltar. Three men and a woman, all unarmed, are killed. No bomb was found. [Gibraltar]
  • 1987: In the Enniskillen 'Massacre' the IRA bombing of a Remembrance Day parade kills eleven civilians and injures sixty-three. Among the dead is nurse Marie Wilson, whose father, Gordon Wilson, would go on to become a leading campaigner for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. The IRA would later state that their target was a colour guard of British soldiers. On Remembrance Day 1997 the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, formally apologised for the bombing. [Northern Ireland]
  • 1989: Ten Royal Marine bandsmen are killed and 22 injured in the bombing of their base in Deal in Kent. [England]
  • 1990: Car bombings in Northern Ireland kill seven and wound 37. [Northern Ireland]
  • 27 May 1990: Two Australian tourists shot dead in Holland, having been mistaken for off-duty British soldiers.
  • 30 July 1990 Ian Gow MP is killed when a device explodes under his car as he is leaving his home. [England]
  • 1990: A British Army Artillery officer is killed by the IRA in Dortmund in the then West Germany.
  • 18 February 1991: A bomb explodes at Victoria Station. One man is killed and 38 people injured. [England]
  • 1991: Mortar attack on members of the British Cabinet and the Prime Minister, John Major in Cabinet session at Number 10 Downing Street at the height of a huge security clampdown amid the Gulf War is launched by the IRA. The Cabinet collectively got under the table to protect themselves. [England]
  • 1991: Two IRA members are killed in St Albans when their bomb detonates prematurely. [England]
  • 28 February 1992: A bomb explodes at London Bridge railway station injuring 29 people. [England]
  • 10 April 1992: A large bomb explodes in St Mary Axe in the City of London killing three people and injuring 91. Many buildings are heavily damaged and the Baltic Exchange is completely destroyed. [England]
  • 12 October 1992: A device explodes in the gents' toilet of the Sussex Arms public house in Covent Garden killing one person and injuring four others. [England]
  • 1992: Eight builders are killed by an IRA bomb on their way to work at an army base near Omagh. [Northern Ireland]
  • 1993: Two IRA bombs at opposite ends of a shopping street in Warrington, timed to go off within minutes of each other, kill two children. [England]
  • 1993: The PIRA detonates a huge truck bomb in the City of London at Bishopsgate, which kills two and causes around £350m of damage, including the near destruction of St Ethelburga's Bishopsgate. [England]
  • 1993: A bomb at a fish and chip shop underneath a UDA office on the Protestant Shankill Road in Belfast detonates prematurely, killing ten, including the bomber and two children. [Northern Ireland]
  • 1 September 1994: The PIRA declares the first of two cease-fires in the 1990s.
  • 10 February 1996: The IRA ends its 1994 cease-fire, killing two civilians in a bomb adjacent to the South Quay DLR station in London's Docklands. [England]
  • 18 February 1996: An improvised high explosive device detonates prematurely on a bus travelling along Aldwych in central London, killing Edward O'Brien, the IRA operative transporting the device and injuring eight others. [England]
  • 15 June 1996: The IRA detonates a 3,300 lb (1,500 kg) bomb in Manchester, injuring 206 people and damaging seventy thousand square metres of retail and office space. [England]
  • 7 October 1996: the IRA kills one soldier and injures 31 people at the British Army's Northern Ireland HQ, Thiepval Barracks. [Northern Ireland]
  • 19 July 1997: The IRA declares a second cease-fire.
  • 2 February 2005: The IRA issues a statement summarizing their "ambitious initiatives designed to develop or save the peace process," including three occasions in which they had complied with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning in putting weapons "beyond use." The statement of 2 February goes on to say, "At this time it appears that the two governments are intent on changing the basis of the peace process. They claim that 'the obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement... is the continuing terrorist and criminal activity of the IRA.' We reject this. It also belies the fact that a possible agreement last December was squandered by both governments pandering to rejectionist unionism instead of upholding their own commitments and honouring their own obligations." The statement concluded with two points: "We are taking all our proposals off the table." and "It is our intention to closely monitor ongoing developments and to protect to the best of our ability the rights of republicans and our support base."
  • 3 February 2005: Following statements from the British and Irish governments, claiming that the new IRA statement was no cause for alarm, the IRA issues a second 2-sentence statement: "The two governments are trying to play down the importance of our statement because they are making a mess of the peace process. Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."
  • 10 February 2005: The Independent Monitoring Commission reports that it firmly supports the PSNI and Garda assessments that the PIRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery and recommends financial and political sanctions against Sinn Féin.
  • 27 February 2005: Republicans in East Belfast hold a rally to demand justice following the murder of Robert McCartney.
  • 17 March 2005 Sinn Féin is boycotted by United States president George W. Bush, Senator Edward Kennedy and leading Irish Americans during St. Patrick's Day celebrations because of the involvement of IRA members in the murder of Robery McCartney.
  • 6 April 2005 Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams calls on the IRA to initiate consultations "as quickly as possible" to move from being a paramilitary organisation to one committed to purely non-military methods.
  • 25 May 2005 : British Intelligence claims that the IRA are still recruiting and training new members. A large number of new recruits are being trained in firearms and explosives and are also involved in "dry runs", practicing the targeting of their enemies.

P. O'Neill

The IRA traditionally uses the pseudonym P. O'Neill in its public statements, which are all issued in the name of "P. O'Neill, Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin".

The origins of the P. O'Neill name are somewhat murky. It has been suggested that it is a reference to Sir Phelim O'Neill, the executed leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Some more sarcastic commentators have suggested that the "P" actually stands for Pinocchio, given the factual unreliability of some of P. O'Neill's statements over the years.

Infiltration

The IRA has often been infiltrated by British Intelligence agents, and in the past many IRA members have been 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 Steakknife, who is thought to have been head of the Provisional IRA's internal security force, charged with rooting out and executing informers. Scappaticci denies that this is the case and is taking legal action to challenge this claim.

See also

Other terrorist groups on Ireland

Related topics

Footnotes

1. The PIRA is described as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Germany and Italy, the latter three of which have alleged the existence of IRA links with terrorist organisations within their own jurisdictions including ETA and the Red Brigades. It has also been described as such by the European Union. In the island of Ireland it is described as a terrorist organisation by An Garda Síochána, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, (PSNI). It is generally called a terrorist organisation by the following media outlets: The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Sunday Tribune, Ireland on Sunday, the Sunday Times and all the tabloid press. On the island of Ireland among political parties Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats who together form a coalition government in the Republic of Ireland refer to it as a terrorist organisation, as do the main opposition parties Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party, and the Workers Party, while in Northern Ireland it is described as a terrorist movement by the mainly nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the cross community Alliance Party, and from the unionist community the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Progressive Unionist Party. Members of the IRA are tried in the Republic in the Special Criminal Court, a court set up by emergency legislation and which is described in its functioning as dealing with "terrorism". On the island of Ireland the only political party to suggest that the IRA is not a terrorist organisation is Sinn Féin, currently the second largest political party in Northern Ireland. 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 Northern Ireland Secretary (a member of the British cabinet with responsibility for Northern Ireland) contrasted the activities of the IRA and those of Al-Qaeda, describing the latter as "terrorists" and the former as "freedom fighters".

The US State Dept and the European Union have taken the Provisional IRA off their lists of terrorist organisations due to the fact that there is a cease-fire. However, the RIRA and CIRA are still listed.

2. These men were originally acquitted of aiding FARC and convicted solely on the lesser charge of possessing false passports; however the acquittal was overturned on appeal. The three men disappeared while on bail and their whereabouts are still not known. The case was controversial for several reasons, including the heavy reliance on the testimony of a former FARC member and dubious forensic evidence. There was also considerable political pressure from the right-wing government of Alvaro Uribe, members of which had called for a guilty verdict.

External Links

no:Det provisoriske IRA

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