Irish Republican Army
The term IRA is used to refer to two different, historically linked organisations; the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA. The former were formed in 1969 and have been more active since then with a particuarly high profile from their terrorist campaign. The Provisional IRA was formed as a reaction to percieved inactivity of the Offical IRA, who were formed in 1919, but whose profile dropped since the end of the Irish Civil War.
The Provisional IRA, also known as the The Irish Republican Army, PIRA, Provos, or IRA (Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish Gaelic) is a republican terrorist organisation that fought against the British in Northern Ireland, claiming to represent the largely Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland.
The organisation is associated with the political party Sinn Féin (also known as Provisional Sinn Fein), although a direct association is offically denied. In 1981 an IRA prisoner serving a life sentence, Bobby Sands, was elected to the UK parliament while on Hunger Strike in the infamous Maze Prison. He died shortly after the election, but this was the beginning of a new strategy of Armalite and Ballot Box, combining politics with the "armed struggle" (terrorist campaign). The policy of violence was gradually undermined by increased faith in politics together with a number of peace initiatives and a loss of support for a violent program - the conciliatory handling of the situation first by John Major and later by Tony Blair is often held up as an example of an effective approach to counter-terrorism.
Two small factions within the IRA broke away from the main organisation to protest its participation in the peace process: these are known as the Real IRA (RIRA), which carried out the Omagh bombing in 1998, the bloodiest single incident in the Troubles (29 people were killed), and the Continuity IRA (CIRA).
The IRA was first formed in 1919 from members of the Irish Volunteers, an armed group formed in 1914 to promote self government in Ireland, which was then part of the United Kingdom, and in response to the formation of the armed Ulster Volunteers, which sought to force exclusion of Ulster from any Home Rule agreement. While the British parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1914, providing limited powers of self government to the Irish, its implementation was postponed by the outbreak of World War I. The majority of the approximately 100,000 Irish Volunteers accepted British promises that the act would go into force following the war, and many joined the British Army to fight. However, approximately 12,000 did not accept the delay. This group retained the name Irish Volunteers. They were largely controlled by the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood, or IRB, which had been seeking to instigate rebellion against British rule since the mid-19th century.
On April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising broke out when a significant portion of Volunteers seized Dublin's General Post Office (where their leader Padraig Pearse read a proclamation of Irish independence) and other points in Dublin. The limited nature of the rising is accounted for by splits in the leadership of the Volunteers and the issuing of orders countermanding the rising. The rebels managed to hold out for a week, but were defeated by British forces, who surrounded and isolated the rebel outpoosts and reduced them using artillery in many cases. The Rising had initially been unpopular among the Irish people, but this changed when the British executed 16 of its leaders following court-martials in Dublin.
In 1917, those who had participated in the Rising, as well as many who had been converted to their cause, organized the Irish Republican Army, dedicated to using force to attain independence. The Anglo-Irish War began with the killing of two Royal Irish Constabulary men in January 1919. The IRA was organized into "flying columns" of 20-30 men who attacked British bases and ambushed military and police forces, as well as smaller units carrying out killings of police, army and government personnel. In July 1921, the IRA and the British agreed to a truce, which was followed by the negotiations for what became the Anglo-Irish Treaty. By the treaty provisions, Ireland was to become a dominion of the United Kingdom, and the British were to retain possession of several ports on the Irish coastline. Additionally, members of the Irish Parliament (or Dail, Eireann) were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the British Crown. The treaty also led to the partition of the island, as six northern counties (Armagh, Antrim, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down, Derry) opted to remain part of the UK and became the new state entity of Northern Ireland.
The IRA leadership as well as its rank and file were deeply divided by the treaty. Pro-treaty members believed that it was a stepping stone to the independence they had sought, while anti-treaty members felt the treaty was a betrayal of the ideals that had motivated them to fight. These divisions ultimately led to a split in the IRA and civil war. The pro-treaty faction was reorganized as the Irish National Army, while the anti-treaty group retained the IRA label. The split ultimately led to a bloody civil war that ended in 1923 with the pro-treaty forces victorious.
World War II
During the period between the Irish Civil War and World War II, the IRA was largely engaged in social issues, which they approached from a left-wing perspective. While a number of IRA men joined the socialist and communist International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, they engaged in generally non-violent protest in Ireland. This approach was unpopular, partially due to the influence of the conservative Catholic Church in Ireland, and IRA membership dwindled.
In 1938, the IRA began preparing plans to return to war with a bombing campaign in England. The IRA also sought German assistance with the campaign, but in the end the Germans provided little assistance. The IRA campaign had little effect, largely due to repressive measures taken by the UK and Irish governments. IRA members were interned without trial in both countries, and several were executed.
In the early 1950s the IRA began planning for a new campaign, which was intended to reunite Northern Ireland with the remainder of the island. The Border Campaign began in 1956 and lasted until 1962. IRA groups attacked military installations and attempted to disrupt the workings of the Northern Ireland state by damaging its infrastructure. The governments once again responded by introducing internment, which severely inhibited IRA operations. Ultimately the Border Campaign ended with an IRA admission that it did not have sufficient popular support to maintain its activities.
During the early 1960s, the IRA again came under socialist and Marxist influences. This led to a lack of emphasis on military aspects of the organization. When violent rioting broke out in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, in 1969, the IRA was ill-prepared to assist the Catholic/Nationalist community, to the extent that mocking jokes held that the abbreviation 'IRA' stood for "I Ran Away". The lack of focus on defense led to divisions within the IRA between those who favored a movement focused on class issues and those who were motivated to defend their community by armed force, and by extension, use armed struggle to bring about a united Ireland. The organization split along these lines in 1969, and the group focused on defense and armed struggle against the British became known as the Provisional IRA (PIRA). The remaining group was referred to as the Official IRA (OIRA).
OIRA engaged in some military activity during the early years of the Troubles before calling a ceasefire in 1972. They have since transformed into a political party, currently known as The Workers’ Party, contesting elections largely in the Republic of Ireland. PIRA, on the other hand, launched a 30-year campaign of violence against British control of Northern Ireland. PIRA violence was responsible for approximately 1,800 of the 3,000 deaths during the Troubles. The PIRA campaign came to an end with a ceasefire in 1997 as a result of the Irish Peace Process, which culminated in the Belfast Agreement, sometimes known as the Good Friday Agreement, in 1998. In 2005, the IRA officially announced an end to its campaign and decommissioned much of its arms under international supervision.
Noraid is an American fund-raising organisation claiming to support the peaceful campaign for a united Ireland. Set up at the beginning of the Troubles, it was often accused by the British, Irish and US governments of being a front for the supply of military hardware to the PIRA. This caused many in the UK to suspect that Americans were anti-British and caused some resentment of Americans by some Britons.