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Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) is a terrorist group which has aimed, through violence, to achieve two goals:
- British withdrawal from Ireland,
- the political unification of Ireland through the overthrow of Northern Ireland and the Republic 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 military presence in Northern Ireland, a campaign against the British Army, as well as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Unionist community and, on occasion, the police and army in the Republic of Ireland) played a major role in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The IRA has been officially on ceasefire since 1997.
- 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.
The IRA was formed before the time of the Easter Rising in 1916. It became synonymous with what was actually an IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) rebellion. What is called the Provisional IRA arose in 1969, continuing the stated 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 republic. It considered the British(and Irish) government 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 alleged role in racketeering and the fact that the Unionist (or Loyalist) majority in Northern Ireland want British rule, it is generally described as a terrorist group, 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.
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  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.
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 PIRA 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 the island of 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, and the killing of two children at 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 1990's the IRA moved to attacking economic targets, such as the Baltic Exchange and Canary Wharf, the latter of which killed two civilians.
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), 4 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. The IRA has also, on occasion, received assistance from foreign governments and paramilitary 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 11th September 2001 and the arrest in Colombia of three men (two known members of the IRA and the Sinn Féin representative in Cuba), for allegedly training Colombian FARC guerrillas 2. The organisation has also been accused of raising funds through smuggling, racketeering and bank robberies.
In February 2005 prominent PIRA members were denounced by relatives of Robert McCartney, leading to Gerry Adams for the first time advising Republicans to give evidence against members of the PIRA. Three IRA members were expelled from the organisation over the incident and an offer was made by the organisation to execute those responsible for the murder. 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 PIRA 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 extra-legal paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000.
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, the PIRA temporarily broke contact with General de Chastelain. It is expected that, if and when power-sharing resumes, the PIRA disarmament process will begin again, though it is already considered by some 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 PIRA to disarm entirely collapsed when the DUP, under Ian Paisley, insisted on photographic evidence. The PIRA 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 an end a complete end to criminal 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 PIRA declared that it was withdrawing from the disarmament process.
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.
PIRA has also targeted certain British Government officials, unionist politicians and civilians in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Many civilians perceived to have been assisting the British 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 on August 27, 1979, by an IRA bomb placed in his boat.
Also many Catholic civilians have been killed by PIRA in Northern Ireland for alleged "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 shot and killed 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. Although this is of course a contentious statement given that the term Legitimate Target has never been defined in the context of the so called armed struggle. Two examples. During the 1980's the PIRA waged a sustained campaign against a retail firm called Allied Carpets and in the 1970's kidnapped a horse called Shergar. Neither are known to have overtly political beliefs.
The PIRA has been officially on ceasefire since July 1997 (although hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and so-called 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.
- 1971: Three British soldiers are killed in a bomb attack in Belfast. [Northern Ireland]
- 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 PIRA 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 PIRA would officially apologise for this set of attacks. [Northern Ireland]
- 4 February 1974: A bomb planted on a coach carrying service personnel and their wives and families explodes as it is travelling along the M62 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 apparently that the pub attacked was frequented by soldiers. Four people, dubbed the 'Guildford Four', would be convicted for the bombing and imprisoned for life. The Guildford Four were tortured into confessing and 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. No police officer was ever charged, and the IRA never gave up the identities of the genuine bombers. [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. It has been claimed that the real bombers had admitted responsibility for the bombings, and that 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 PIRA also threatens to kidnap or kill Irish cabinet ministers and the President of Ireland.
- 1979: A PIRA 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 PIRA 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, leaving 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. IRA prisoners were awarded political status, 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 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 PIRA during Christmas shopping season kills six (three police) and wounds 90. [England]
- 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 PIRA cells as they attempted to attack an RUC police station in Loughall . Eight terorists are killed. Sinn Fein/IRA later claim that their operatives were "brutally executed without the right to a trial". [Northern Ireland]
- 1987: The SAS attack a PIRA cell who it was believed were about to detonate a bomb near a public military parade in Gibraltar. Four terrorists are killed. Sinn Fein/IRA claim the members of the cell were on a joint holiday. [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 PIRA would later claim 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.
- 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 PIRA 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. [England]
- 1991: Two PIRA 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 PIRA 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 PIRA 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 PIRA kills one soldier and injures 31 people at the British Army's Northern Ireland HQ, Thiepval Barracks. [Northern Ireland]
- 19 July 1997: The PIRA 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 February 2 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 paramilitary 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 over the IRA's alleged involvement 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 "republican and democratic objectives".
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.
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.
Other paramilitary groups in Ireland
- Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
- Real IRA (RIRA)
- Continuity IRA (CIRA)
- Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
- Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
- Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)
- Red Hand Commandos
- IRA Army Council
- Irish Republican Army
- Gerry Adams
- Martin McGuinness
- Sinn Féin
- History of Northern Ireland
- The Troubles
- Northern Ireland peace process
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 completely 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.
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