PROVISIONAL IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY

 

IRA Terrorist Incidents

   

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 united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion. It emerged out of the December 1969 split of the Irish Republican Army due to differences over ideology and over 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 the unionist community and from the authorities, and culminated in the 1969 Northern Ireland riots. The IRA conducted an armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England, over the course of which is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,800 people.

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 be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland. 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 Sinn Féin

Following the violence of August 1969, the IRA began to arm and train to protect nationalist areas from further attack.After the split, the Provisional IRA began planning for an "all-out offensive action against the British occupation". The Official IRA were opposed to such a campaign because they felt it would lead to sectarian conflict, which would defeat their strategy of uniting the workers from both sides of the sectarian divide. The IRA Border Campaign in the 1950s had avoided actions in urban centres of Northern Ireland to avoid civilian casualties and resulting sectarian violence. The Provisional IRA, by contrast, was primarily an urban organisation, based originally in Belfast and Derry.

The Provisional IRA's strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict casualties on the British forces such that the British government be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland. According to journalist Brendan O'Brien, "the thinking was that the war would be short and successful. Chief of Staff Seán Mac Stíofáin decided they would 'escalate, escalate and escalate' until the British agreed to go". This policy involved recruitment of volunteers and carrying out attacks on British forces, as well as mounting a bombing campaign against economic targets. In the early years of the conflict, IRA slogans spoke of, "Victory 1972" and then "Victory 1974" Its inspiration was the success of the "Old IRA" in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922). In their assessment of the IRA campaign, the British Army would describe these years, 1970–72, as the "insurgency phase".

The British government held secret talks with the IRA leadership in 1972 to try and secure a ceasefire based on a compromise settlement within Northern Ireland after the events of Bloody Sunday when IRA recruitment and support increased. The IRA agreed to a temporary ceasefire from 26 June to 9 July. In July 1972, IRA leaders Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ivor Bell, Seamus Twomey, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met a British delegation led by William Whitelaw. The IRA leaders 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

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 Éire Nua (New Ireland). The Éire Nua programme remained policy until discontinued by the Provisionals under the leadership of Gerry Adams in the early 1980s in favour of the pursuit of a new unitary 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 Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Billy McKee with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees secured an IRA ceasefire which began in February 1975. The IRA initially believed that this was the start of a long-term process of British withdrawal, but later came to the conclusion that Rees was trying to bring them into peaceful politics without offering them any guarantees. Critics of the IRA leadership, most notably Gerry Adams, felt that the ceasefire was disastrous for the IRA, leading to infiltration by British informers, the arrest of many activists and a breakdown in IRA discipline resulting in sectarian killings and a feud with fellow republicans in the Official IRA. The ceasefire broke down in January 1976

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 Féin party. A republican document of the early 1980s states, "Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign... Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement". The 1977 edition of the Green Book, an induction and training manual used by the Provisionals, describes the strategy of the "Long War" in these terms:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To make the Six Counties... ungovernable except by colonial military rule.
  4. To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.
  5. 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."[63]

1981 hunger strikes and electoral politics

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 Dáil. In addition, there were work stoppages and large demonstrations all over Ireland in sympathy with the hunger strikers. Over 100,000 people attended the funeral of Sands, the first hunger striker to die. After the success of IRA hunger strikers in mobilising support and winning elections on an Anti H-Block platform in 1981, republicans increasingly devoted time and resources to electoral politics, through the Sinn Féin party. Danny Morrison summed up this policy at a 1981 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (annual meeting) as a "ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other".

"TUAS" – peace strategy

In the 1980s, the IRA made an attempt to escalate the conflict with the so called "Tet Offensive". When this did not prove successful, republican leaders increasingly looked for a political compromise to end the conflict. Gerry Adams entered talks with John Hume, the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks were also conducted with British civil servants. Thereafter, Adams increasingly tried to disassociate Sinn Féin from the IRA, claiming they were separate organisations and refusing to speak on behalf of the IRA. Within the Republican Movement (the IRA and Sinn Féin), the new strategy was described by the acronym "TUAS", meaning either "Tactical Use of Armed Struggle" or "Totally Unarmed Strategy"

The IRA ultimately called an indefinite ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement. When this did not happen, the IRA called off its ceasefire from February 1996 until July 1997, carrying out several bombing and shooting attacks. The bombings caused severe economic damage, with the Manchester bombing and the Docklands bombing causing approximately £500 million in combined damage. After its ceasefire was reinstated, Sinn Féin was admitted into the "Peace Process", which produced the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Ceasefires and decommissioning of arms

On 31 August 1994, the Provisional IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire. However, from December 1995 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 estimate the IRA weaponry, and due to 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 IRA ceasefire in 1997 formed part of a process that led to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. One aim of the Agreement is that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000. Calls from Sinn Féin led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that was monitored by Canadian General John de Chastelain's 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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE POLITICAL TERRORISM

 

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