User:Mal McKee/Irish Republican Army

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Actually a broad term encompassing both historical and factional organizations, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) includes various insurgent groups beginning when the whole of Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom, and latterly in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. At various times and currently, different groups have claimed the title, resulting in various qualifiers such as Official IRA, Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Continuity IRA, etc.

Almost without exception, each of these groups has referred to themselves as 'Óglaigh na hÉireann' - literally "Volunteers of Ireland" - which is also the name in Irish Gaelic of the Republic of Ireland's national army, the Irish Defence Forces.

IRA groups variously have considered themselves subordinate to overt political organizations, or been autonomous movements of their own.


The original IRA in Ireland was born out of the Fenian movement of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Fenian Brotherhood, and attracted membership from both those organisations as well as others, including the Irish Volunteers, the Gaelic League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Sinn Féin. It came into being in 1919 and Eamon de Valera, President of Sinn Féin, assumed leadership of it. Although Sinn Féin didn't organise the Easter Rising, many of its members took part in it. When the first Dáil was convened on the 21st of January 1919, attended solely by members of Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers pledged its support, viewed itself as the national army of the Dáil and named itself the Irish Republican Army.

The fist Dáil espoused socialism and many members were influenced by Marxism.

First split

While the Home Rule movement had proposed devolved government, and had not initially supported the idea of secession from the United Kingdom, a minority of Volunteers felt that Ireland should become an independent sovereign state. Independence was not initially widely supported and there is evidence to suggest that many Irish people objected strongly to the notion. Thus, while a visit by George V to Dublin in 1911 was largely welcomed there, a hostile Dublin crowd spat on and jeered the arrested insurgents of the Easter Rising just five years later in 1916.

The resultant executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising for treason however, gave the separatist Republican movement impetus. Sinn Féin gained support at the expense of the Irish Parliamentary Party, though Sinn Féin's success in the 1918 elections was also partly due to the First Past the Post electoral system and the fact that the Irish Labour Party entered an electoral alliance with Sinn Féin.

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified, this polarised the IRA and the associated Republican Movement into two camps: pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty. The pro-Treaty force essentially became the legitimate army for the fledgling Irish Free State, eventually to be named in English as the Irish Defence Forces while still keeping the name Óglaigh na h-Eireann in Gaelic.[1]

Sinn Féin and the anti-Treaty IRA faction consolidated in their effort to fight against the pro-Treaty forces of the new Irish Free State, resulting in the outbreak of a civil war in that territory. However, the IRA organised differently in Northern Ireland often with both pro- and anti-Treaty IRA actions against the RIC and Army. The main focus of the anti-Treaty force though, was concentrated in a struggle for governance of the Free State.

The anti-Treaty IRA were eventually defeated by the pro-Treaty Irish Free State, which executed several members of the anti-Treaty force.

Second split

After the civil war the link between the IRA and Sinn Féin was weakened. Their link was again consolidated though, in 1939 and campaigns against the establishment in the United Kingdom came and went. The IRA had also been considering cooperation since around 1937 with the Nazi government of Germany. The Nazis became interested particularly after the outbreak of the Second World War, when the Republic of Ireland had declared itself neutral. Attempts to supply the IRA were made, though most cooperative operations came to nothing.

The IRA had continued to embrace left-wing politics of varying degrees, and this had led to violent clashes with the right-wing, Republican and pro-Nazi Blueshirts organisation in the Republic.

The IRA nevertheless continued a campaign against the establishment, concentrating this time mainly against that in Northern Ireland. During the latter half of WWII, the IRA issued a warning that the US Army stationed in Northern Ireland were to consider themselves as targets. Although Éamon De Valera had split from Sinn Féin and the IRA nearly twenty years prior to the end of the war, he visited the German Consulate in Dublin to offer his condolences on hearing of Hitler's death.

However, throughout the war, which De Valera's government referred to as "the Emergency", the government of the Republic supported and helped Northern Ireland. Particularly notable was the help received after the Belfast Blitz during which the water supply had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. De Valera sent fire engines laden with water to Belfast to help tackle the fires, at the request of Irish Prime Minister Basil Brooke in the early hours of the morning.

The introduction of the new Constitution in 1937, together with the IRA's cooperation with Germany during the war, caused support for them to decline. The IRA's renewed campaign in Northern Ireland from the late 1950s petered out. Internment had been introduced in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, which saw dozens of IRA members arrested and detained. Former IRA member Séan MacBride protested over the introduction of internment by withdrawing his party's support for the Fine Gael government.

De Valera's subsequent Fianna Fail government, with Charles Haughey as Minister for Justice, strengthened the powers of arrest and internment, and this resulted in more convictions for IRA members.

With a lack of public support, and positive action taken against terrorism in both of the Irish states, the IRA issued a statement declaring their campaign to be on hiatus until the force could consolidate, expand and prepare for another campaign against "British Occupation" in Ireland.

The IRA considered not only the establishment of Northern Ireland as its enemy, but also that of the Republic, officially refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the governments of either state. Additionally, the IRA and Sinn Féin had started to move ever leftward, politically speaking, even to the extent of embracing the Marxism that had been intrinsic to its origins.

At the beginning of 1967, a political pressure group called the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed. Although initially the organisation consisted of some Unionist support such as the Ulster Liberal Party and some members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, amongst its principle founders were members of Sinn Féin's Republican Clubs. It was the undue influence of Republicans, combined with an increase in the amount of street violence and a specific emphasis on the plight of Roman Catholics, that eventually saw a sharp decline in support, publicly and politically, of unionists for NICRA in the months leading up to the outbreak of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Many unionists were of the opinion that NICRA and the other civil rights organisations which had sprung up were merely a front for Sinn Féin and the IRA in an effort to galvanise nationalists and Republicans towards their latest campaign against the state.

NICRA and the other civil rights movements came to take a decidedly nationalist and Republican stance, politically and this wasn't helped by unionist counter-demonstrations against their marches, most often led or organised by Ian Paisley, which often resulted in violent clashes.

The police found were called upon to contain the street rioting and keep the civil rights demonstrations from degenerating into violence, but were often seen to be the cause of violence, and as sectarian particularly as they so often had to police rioting which had started in Roman Catholic areas.

In the very last months of the 1960s, Sinn Féin and the IRA had come to an impasse internally, with regard to their direction.

Provisional IRA

From December 1969 through January 1970, there was a split in the movement between those who wanted to step up a violent campaign and those who wanted to continue in a Marxist and constitutional direction with an end to absentionism. The former became the Provisional IRA, often simply referred to as "the IRA" or "Provos" in later years, and Provisional Sinn Féin - again referred to simply as Sinn Féin later.

The latter group became known as the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin, nicknamed "the Stickies". While Official Sinn Féin and IRA continued some violent activity and had an ensuing conflict with "the Provos", they eventually ceased most of their violent activity in the mid- to late-1970s and renamed their political wing first as 'Sinn Féin the Workers Party' and then as just 'The Workers Party', keeping with their socialist and Marxist policies. Although they remained constitutional, and were active in politics in both of the Irish states, their support dwindled over the next few decades.

The Provisionals though, did step up their campaign and went through a series of different political and paramilitary strategies from that moment on. Their support increased dramatically after the events of Bloody Sunday at the beginning of 1972, when the Parachute Regiment opened fire on a crowd of protesters, ultimately killing thirteen civilians and a member of the youth section of the Provisional IRA.

The police force in Northern Ireland had become exhausted by a concerted effort of rioting by nationalists and Republicans throughout, often night after night. The police were eventually reinforced by the Army. Initially the Army were mobilised in a support capacity, and were largely welcomed by people in besieged Roman Catholic areas, but not by the IRA. A short while later though, responsibility for security in Northern Ireland was transferred to Westminster and, as a result, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner, resigned.

A year later, the government of Northern Ireland, having been suspended, was effectively abolished and Direct Rule was imposed. This was met with mixed reception. For Republicans and nationalists, it meant that the majority Unionists specifically no longer had control of local affairs but, at the same time, the region was now being directly controlled by the government they perceived as the enemy - the British government.

As a result of international news coverage of the events of police handling of riot situations, and of Bloody Sunday, the IRA were bolstered by a section of Irish-America, who sent financial support and also organised in the shape of NORAID, led by Martin Galvin. The government of the Republic of Ireland, under the leadership of both Charles Haughey and Jack Lynch, also gave the IRA financial support as well as training and safe haven in the 1970s. The IRA formed allegiances in the international terrorist community, notably with Basque Separatist group ETA and Libya, as well as smuggling Armalites and other weaponry from the U.S.. The cheap Libyan-imported AK-47s later became a replacement for the USA's Armalites.

As the substantial backbone of membership of the Army and Northern Ireland's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary were Protestants, the unionist community began to see the IRA's attacks on them as an attack against the unionist community, Protestants and the British people as a whole. In the early- to mid-1970s, they organised en masse, consolidating various area 'defence forces' into two major Loyalist terrorist groups. One particular incident, in which three young Scottish soldiers were murdered in Northern Ireland by IRA members who pretended to befriend them, particularly disgusted the population. Added to the events of Bloody Friday, these events motivated unionists to join up with Loyalist terrorist groups. The Loyalists, not having any particularly highly-visible targets, started killing people who they suspected of being members of, or having collaborated with, the IRA. Almost invariably, these victims, whether guilty or not, tended to be Roman Catholic men who lived, worked in or frequented Protestant areas.

From around 1973, the IRA started to attack targets in the rest of the UK, mostly confined to England specifically. They also started to attack industrial and commercial targets. By the mid 1970s, specially-trained British operatives had started to infiltrate the IRA, and recruitment of informants had begun. The IRA itself, however, became better organised, splitting operatives into small cells and often operating on a need-to-know basis. They increased their knowledge of bomb-making and booby traps and were able to trade such expertise for weaponry and training in places like Libya.

Subsequent splits

Real IRA

The Real IRA (RIRA) group formed in Northern Ireland, from PIRA members who had rejected the 1998 peace process and continued fighting the British. Both the British and Irish governments consider it separate from the Provisional IRA.[2] According to the RAND Corporation, it was created by PIRA’s ex-quartermaster general, Michael McKevitt and his common-law wife Bernadette Sands-McKevitt.[3] The two were public members of a political organization called the Sovereignty Committee.[4] She was the sister of Bobby Sands, who was the first PIRA member to die as a result of a hunger strike, in 1981. They recruited a number of PIRA bomb-makers, and their operations have emphasized bombing rather than small unit combat.[3] The RIRA claimed responsibility for the Omagh bombing of August 1998,[5] which Sands-McKevitt condemned; she said she approved of the halt to violence of the RIRA and PIRA. [6]

The RIRA has been designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. government, beginning in 2001.[7] "RIRA opposes compromise with the British government or with the Protestant unionist majority in Northern Ireland, which favors keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. Many of the attacks have coincided with the implementation of the new steps of the Good Friday Accord."


  1. Irish Defence Forces website in Irish Gaelic
  2. James F. Clarity (August 19, 1998), "I.R.A. Splinter Group Says It Carried Out Bombing", New York Times
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kim Cragin and Sara A. Daly (2004), The Dynamic Terrorist Threat: An Assessment of Group Motivations and Capabilities, RAND Corporation, p. 27
  4. Rosie Cowan (March 30, 2001), Guardian
  5. CBC News, November 13, 1998
  6. "Bobby Sands' sister condemns bombers", BBC, August 19, 1998
  7. Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman, U.S. Department of State (May 13, 2003), U.S. Redesignates Real IRA as Terrorist Organization