The Provisional Irish Republican Army
When one thinks of terrorism, the conflict in Israel or other Middle Eastern countries usually comes to mind. Although true to some extent there are many other groups in the world that fall under the category of terrorists. One of these groups is located in Europe, more specifically in Northern Ireland, and is commonly known as the IRA, or the Irish Republican Army. This group has been around for decades and has fought politically and militarily for the liberation of Ireland from the rule of Great Britain. To fully grasp and understand the Provisional Irish Republican Army (from now on in the paper the Provisional Irish Republican Army will be referred to as the IRA) and its cause, it is necessary to analyze the history, leadership and organization, tactics and strategies, and involvement with other terrorist groups This paper will focus on what is known as the Provos or the PIRA, which is the paramilitaristic side of the IRA, while not much will be focused on the politica!l sector of the IRA known as the Sinn Fein.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army wasnt officially formed until 1969, but can trace its origins back to the 19th century in a country across the Atlantic. The story is told that sometime in June 1866 a group of about 800 armed men, most members of a group known as the Fenian brotherhood, fought a battle along the Canadian border with some young militia men.This group of men waged the tiny battle while flying a banner with the letters IRA printed across it. The reasoning for this was the men had been told that they were fighting in an attempt to create a base of operations for the separation of Ireland from the rule of British, ultimately the goal was to anhilate Great Britain.The group failed and retreated back towards the U.S. border, and the term IRA did not appear for another 50 years in an Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. A group of rebels led by a man named Patrick Pearse, seized the General Post Office and other public buildings, but this bloody conflict was quickly quelled. Despite the short-lived event, it awakened interest and support for the separation of Ireland from Britain. This uprising also produced the Proclamation of the Republic, which has been declared the founding document of the IRA.In 1921 treaty was signed that established the Irish Free State and two parliaments- one for the 26 southern counties and one for the six northern counties, or Northern Ireland. The treaty was accepted by the Dail, or the Irish Parliament, but was not accepted by the IRA, which had now accrued a membership of nearly 100,000 members. This rejection of the treaty led to the Irish Civil War that began in 1922 (3).The IRAs position during the civil war was for the complete independence of Ireland from Britain (2). Once the war concluded the IRA ordered its Volunteers to discard their arms. Throughout the 1920s the IRA reorganized and began attracting a wide following. In 1925 the IRA set up a ruling structure, which is for all intents and purposes still in tact today. This structure is largely based on a seven-member Army Council led by a chief-of-staff.(1) In the 1930s that the IRA began to seek out a successful political and military advances agenda, but this was shattered by the division and separation by several smaller groups within the IRA (4).In the mid to early 50s the IRA conducted raids against the British in order to conduct a campaign that was carried out from 1956 until 1962. It was a conflict that included nearly 500 incidents, which mainly occurred around the borders and saw attacks on British border posts and other military installations (4). The IRA only conducted small marches and not much was heard of them until 1969.In 1969 the IRA voted to give at least a token of recognition to the parliaments located in Dunlin, London, and Belfast. Angered by this vote, some of the members walked out and formed the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which was later confirmed at an annual meeting held by the Sinn Fein.There were now two IRAs: the old IRA, or the Officials, and the new Provisional IRA (Provos). The new organization attracted many new members and by the first year they had accrued nearly 1,500 members, 800 of them were located in Northern Ireland. The relationship between the Provos and the Officials was severely strained and soon witnessed several bloody encounters, neither side gaining the upper hand (3).Soon the IRA turned its violence towards the British. They began bombing campaigns that include a bombing of public houses in Birmingham and Guildford, which caused a large loss of life. Following this many arrests were made by the British causing the IRA to restructure its organization to lessen the impact of its members giving information to the security forces. Also, active service units were reformed in small cells so that fewer members were known to each other (3).In the 1980s the British resorted to imprisoning IRA political leaders. The British began torturing in interrogations, and also introduced what was labeled as a conveyor belt consisting of one-judge, no-jury courts, to long sentences, and brutality within prisons. Yet, the IRA prisoners did not succumb to this strategy and it only fueled more support for the IRA and its cause (3).Throughout the 1700s and the 1800s the British government and the IRA maintained confidential contacts to help resolve the conflict. This helped to give the British leadership some understanding of how to mend the matter at hand. Soon the IRA and the British Army admitted that a military victory was unachievable (4). Ceasefire was declared on the 31st of August 1994. After 18 months of no political progress, the IRA detonated a bomb at Canary Wharf in London in February 1996. Another 18 months would go by before Northern Ireland would again see peace. Under the guidance and leadership of Tony Blair an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire occurred in the 21st of July 1997 (4).Tactics and StrategiesSometimes the use of violence by paramilitaries is viewed as mindless. In the context of violence utilized by the IRA, they claim it serves to force the British government to recognize them and forces them to negotiate with them. Over time the use of violence has changed. Sometimes a car bomb would be used in order to create as much economic destruction as possible, other times they would target British soldiers. The targeting of British soldiers was derived from the belief that the death of one British soldier was the equivalent, in propaganda terms, the lives of ten policemen from Northern Ireland (5).Targets picked by the IRA are carefully selected. For the most part, the IRA tries not to harm the local community. Yet, this is their view, for example if they killed a Protestant, they would claim that it wasnt a Protestant they were killing, but instead they were killing a member of the security forces who happened to be a Protestant.Some might liken Belfast to the city of Beirut, but if closely examined there is a difference. Most of the violence that is conducted seems to have a certain control to it. Before any violence occurred there was usually some type of warning. Very rarely attacks could have been described as targeting innocent people deliberately.Yet, this term of innocent people should be used lightly, because there does exist what is known as soft targets. These soft targets were people or property that could be easily picked off, and obviously the easier the targets are the more successful you is going to be. An example of this was the murdering of a woman who was a census collector in Northern Ireland. She was shot dead because the IRA claimed she worked for the government. She was simply finding out, for the government, how the people in Northern Ireland felt (5).The primary tactic utilized by the IRA is bombing. The most intensive bombing executed by the IRA was the London Bombing Campaign. This bombing campaign was used to bring the war to the British mainland. Previous attempts had failed in Britain due to logistics and no local support. By going to London they were saying to the British political establishment that, Hey, here we are, at the heart of your country. Unfortunately, these campaigns claimed lives, and in one instant it claimed the lives of two young boys. This actually had a reverse affect by showing that the IRA was an organization that takes the lives of innocent people (5).A second attempt to bomb the British cabinet occurred in 1991 during a war cabinet meeting. According to eyewitnesses it was only a few degrees off or it would have hit with deadly success. Again, this brought home to politicians that at some stage they were going to have to deal with the IRA.Leadership and OrganizationSome analysts estimate the strength of the IRA at about 400 hard-core activists, with perhaps a similar number of backup or second-line activists. Most of the members, known as volunteers, are concentrated in Northern Ireland, although a smaller number are based in the Republic of Ireland and there are small cells in the UK. Most of these volunteers are not full-time; most of them have part-time jobs.When it comes to operational decisions, there is believed to be about 40 middle-ranking volunteers who handle this decision making process. British authorities believe that they have identified most of these operatives, but there are always new and upcoming people that have not been identified. Since the cease-fire in 1994 the IRA is believed to have kept its structure intact.The day-to-day operating of the IRA is conducted by a seven-person Army Council. Members of the council include the chief-of-staff, the adjutant general, and the quartermaster general. In recent times, the members have been mainly from Northern Ireland and the border counties. Members of the present council come from the Belfast, Derry, Donegal, north Monaghan, and the Louth-Armagh border area.The Supreme authority of the IRA is the General Army Convention(GAC), which rarely convenes. According to the IRA Constitution, the GAC is to meet once every two years unless a majority deems it better for military reasons to postpone a meeting. Delegates to the GAC include IRA members selected by various units within the organization as well as the members of the Army Council. The GAC selects a twelve-member Army Executive, which meets at least once every six months. One of the key roles of the executive is to select the members of the Army Council. When the GAC is not in session it is the duty if the Army Council to provide leadership and supreme authority for the IRA.The planning and implementation of the Army Council is conducted by the General Headquarters Staff, which actually acts as a link between the commands in the South and the North. Ach one of these commands has its own commanding officer, director of operations and quartermaster. The actual operational aspect of these commands is known as the Active Service Units each usually containing five to eight members. Interestingly enough there is a womans group known as the Cumann na mBan.A recent intelligence report gives the name and addresses of some of the upper echelon leaders. The Chief-of-Staff is a man living in County Monaghan, just south of the border in the Republic. The quartermaster general is a man living in County Louth in the Republic. The officer in charge of the Northern command is a man living in Belfast. The officer in charge of the Southern Command is a man said to be living in an area of Dublin. The chief strategist of the IRA is a man who resides in Derry is also active in the Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA.Contacts with Other GroupsIn decades prior to 1969 IRA violence was funded by sympathizers in Ireland as well as in Irish-American organizations located in the United States. Past the 1969 era the IRA expanded its horizons and started seeking assistance elsewhere. There have been many speculations of appearances of Middle Eastern terrorist groups at IRA meetings. Most of these contacts conducted the business of money for guns. Sometimes money and guns come in a package deal, which includes carrying out terrorist acts for other organizations, or providing safe houses for organization members (2).The IRA refuses to carry out other organizations terror acts. An example of this was in 1998 Gerry Adams went to Beirut to negotiate the release of a Belfast man, Brian Keenan. The terrorist group, Hezbollah, wanted, among other things, support for Hezbollah active groups in Britain. Adams and the rest of the IRA representatives declined, they wanted nothing to do with another terrorist group (1).There have also been documented contacts made with the Basque separatist movement ETA for ammunitions. There has also been contact between the IRA and the Algeria government, who are know as supporters of the PLO. While building this relationship a much more significant relationship was built between the IRA and the Libyan Muammar al-Qadhafi. Qadhafi had publicly supported the actions of the IRA in the summer of 1972. As with the other groups the relationship was based on providing the IRA with guns and ammunition. Qadhafis contribution to the Provisionals(IRA) was to find them sources of weapons, which could not be traced to his country. The IRA had and still and have contact with and support of the Algerian, Libyan, and Iranian governments and other terrorist groups (1). These relationships are the key to how the IRA is able to acquire small arms and sometimes heavier ammunition.ConclusionThe Irish conflict has had many actors, but the most infamous and deadly actor has been the Provisional Irish Republican Army. They can trace they roots back to the late 19th century and have utilized deadly tactics to draw attention to their cause. Their leadership has called for peace several times, but continued to negotiate with other terrorist groups in order to maintain an active army. Until the entire island of Ireland is free of British rule it seems that there will be an IRA or at least some form of the IRA
The Provisional Irish Republican Army