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Dawn of the Troubles – August 1969: Northern Ireland History

Dawn of the Troubles – August 1969

Northern Ireland History

During 12–16 August 1969, there was an outbreak of political and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, which is often seen as the beginning of the thirty-year conflict known as the Troubles. There had been sporadic violence throughout the year arising out of the civil rights campaign, which demanded an end to discrimination against Catholics and Irish nationalists.

– Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these blog posts/documentaries are solely intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

Belfast 1969 : The Dawn of the Troubles ( Shankill / Falls RD)

Events leading up to the August riots

The first major confrontation between civil rights activists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary  occurred in Derry on 5 October 1968, when a NICRA ( Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement ) march was baton-charged by the RUC.

Disturbed by the prospect of major violence, the prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, promised reforms in return for a “truce”, whereby no further demonstrations would be held.

Terence O;Neill

In spite of these promises, in January 1969 People’s Democracy, a radical left-wing group, staged an anti-government march from Belfast to Derry. Ulster loyalists, including off-duty USC members, attacked the marchers a number of times, most determinedly at Burntollet Bridge (about five miles  outside Derry). The RUC were present but failed to adequately protect the marchers. This action, and the RUC’s subsequent entry into the Bogside, led to serious rioting in Derry.

See: Burntollet Bridge incident

My thoughts?

Although 1969 is generally regarded as the beginning of the modern Troubles sectarian tensions had been bubbling for some time in the north and loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for the first politically motivated killings since the IRA’s 1950s campaign. The UVF were responsible for three civilian deaths in 1966 including Patrick Scullion who became the first victim of the Troubles. Peter Ward who was killed by Gusty Spences team and a protestant pensioner Matilda Gould who was severely burned in a fire started by the UVF and died a few weeks later.

In March 1966 Gerry Fitt took his place in Westminster giving a voice to a wide range of nationalist grievances. Plans by Republicans to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising stirred up political  tensions even more and Unionists paranoia’s were  exasperated and stoked  by Ian Paisley , who called for a counter parade which led to his arrest  and conviction for unlawful assembly . This led to widespread social unrest and by August 1969 with the rise and protestant/loyalist suspicion of  the NICRA ( Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement ) Northern Ireland was on the brink of an abyss  that would plunge us all into a thirty year nightmare of never ending death and destruction and the stage was set for the beginning of the Troubles!

History Of Loyalism Part 1

In March and April 1969, there were six bomb attacks on electricity and water infrastructure targets, causing blackouts and water shortages. At first the attacks were blamed on the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but it later emerged that members of the loyalist Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the bombings in an attempt to implicate the IRA, destabilise the Northern Ireland Government and halt the reforms promised by Terence O’Neill.

There was some movement on reform in Northern Ireland in the first half of 1969.

On 23 April Ulster Unionist Party Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament voted by 28 to 22 to introduce universal adult suffrage in local government elections in Northern Ireland at their parliamentary party meeting. The call for “one man, one vote” had been one of the key demands of the civil rights movement.

James Chichester-Clark

Five days later, Terence O’Neill resigned as UUP leader and Northern Ireland Prime Minister and was replaced in both roles by James Chichester-Clark. Chichester-Clark, despite having resigned in protest over the introduction of universal suffrage in local government, announced that he would continue the reforms begun by O’Neill.

Street violence, however, continued to escalate. On 19 April there was serious rioting in the Bogside area of Derry following clashes between NICRA marchers against loyalists and the RUC. A Catholic, Samuel Devenny, was severely beaten by the RUC and later died of his injuries.

 On 12 July, during the Orange Order’s Twelfth of July marches, there was serious rioting in Londonderry, Belfast and Dungiven, causing many families in Belfast to flee from their homes.

See: Orange Order

Another Catholic civilian, Francis McCloskey (67), died one day after being hit on the head with batons by RUC officers during disturbances in Dungiven.

As a result of these events, residents of the Catholic Bogside area of Derry set up the Derry Citizens’ Defence Association to organise the defence of the neighbourhood, should the need arise.

Battle of the Bogside

This unrest culminated in a pitched battle in Derry from 12–14 August, known as the Battle of the Bogside. As the yearly march by the Protestant loyalist Apprentice Boys skirted the edge of the Catholic Bogside, stone-throwing broke out.

 The RUC—on foot and in armoured vehicles—drove back the Catholic crowd and attempted to force its way into the Bogside, followed by loyalists who smashed the windows of Catholic homes.

 Thousands of Bogside residents mobilised to defend the area, and beat back the RUC with a hail of stones and petrol bombs. Barricades were built, petrol bomb ‘factories’ and first aid posts were set up, and a radio transmitter (“Radio Free Derry”) broadcast messages and called on

 “every able-bodied man in Ireland who believes in freedom”

to come defend the Bogside.The overstretched police resorted to throwing stones back at the Bogsiders and were helped by loyalists. They received permission to fire CS gas into the Bogside – the first time it had been used by police in the UK. The Bogsiders believed that the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), the wholly Protestant police reserves, would be sent in and would massacre the Catholic residents. On 13 August, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association called for protests across Northern Ireland in support of the Bogside, to draw police away from the fighting there. That night it issued a statement:

A war of genocide is about to flare across the North. The CRA demands that all Irishmen recognise their common interdependence and calls upon the Government and people of the Twenty-six Counties to act now to prevent a great national disaster. We urgently request that the Government take immediate action to have a United Nations peace-keeping force sent to Derry.

See: Battle of The Bogside

Violence in Belfast

A loyalist mural in Belfast commemorating the 1969 riots

Belfast saw by far the most intense violence of the August 1969 riots. Unlike Londonderry, where Catholic nationalists were a majority, in Belfast they were a minority and were also geographically divided and surrounded by Protestants and loyalists. For this reason, whereas in Derry the fighting was largely between nationalists and the RUC, in Belfast it also involved fighting between Catholics and Protestants, including exchanges of gunfire and widespread burning of homes and businesses.

On the night of 12 August, bands of Apprentice Boys arrived back in Belfast after taking part in the Derry march. They were met by Protestant pipe bands and a large crowd of supporters. They then marched to the Shankill Road waving Union Flags and singing “The Sash My Father Wore” (a popular loyalist ballad).

The Sash

According to journalists Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie,:

“Both communities were in the grip of a mounting paranoia about the other’s intentions. Catholics were convinced that they were about to become victims of a Protestant pogrom; Protestants that they were on the eve of an IRA insurrection”.

Wednesday 13 August

Eamonn McCann

The first disturbances in Northern Ireland’s capital took place on the night of 13 August. Derry activists Eamonn McCann and Sean Keenan contacted Frank Gogarty of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to organise demonstrations in Belfast to draw off police from Derry. Independently, Belfast IRA leader Billy McMillen ordered republicans to organise demonstrations, “in support of Derry”.

In protest at the RUC’s actions in Derry, a group of 500 nationalists assembled at Divis flats and staged a rally outside Springfield Road RUC station, where they handed in a petition.

After handing in the petition, the crowd of now 1,000–2,000 people, including IRA members such as Joe McCann,  began a protest march along the Falls Road and Divis Street to the Hastings Street RUC police station. When they arrived, about 50 youths broke away from the march and attacked the RUC police station with stones and petrol bombs.

The RUC responded by sending out riot police and by driving Shorland armoured cars at the crowd.  Protesters pushed burning cars onto the road to stop the RUC from entering the nationalist area.

At Leeson Street, roughly halfway between the clashes at Springfield and Hastings Street RUC police stations, an RUC Humber armoured car was attacked with a hand grenade and rifle fire.

Billy McMillen

 At the time, it was not known who had launched the attack, but it has since emerged that it was IRA members, acting under the orders of Billy McMillen. McMillen also authorised members of the Fianna (IRA youth wing) to attack the Springfield Road RUC police station with petrol bombs. Shots were exchanged there between the IRA and RUC.

In addition to the attacks on the RUC, the car dealership of Protestant Isaac Agnew, on the Falls Road, was destroyed. The nationalist crowd also burnt a Catholic-owned pub and betting shop. At this stage, loyalist crowds gathered on the Shankill Road but did not join in the fighting.

That night, barricades went up at the interface areas between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.

A Shorland armoured car. The RUC used Shorlands mounted with Browning machine guns during the riots.

Thursday 14 August and early hours of Friday 15 August

On 14 August, many Catholics and Protestants living on the edge of their ghettos fled their homes for safety.

The loyalists viewed the nationalist attacks of Wednesday night as an organised attempt by the IRA

“to undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom”.

The IRA, contrary to loyalist belief, was responding to events rather than orchestrating them. Billy McMillen called up all available IRA members for “defensive duties” and sent parties out to Cupar Street, Divis Street and St Comgall’s School on Dover Street. They amounted to 30 IRA volunteers, 12 women, 40 youths from the Fianna and 15–20 girls. Their arms consisted of one Thompson submachine gun, one Sten submachine gun, one Lee–Enfield rifle and six handguns.

A “wee factory” was also set up in Leeson Street to make petrol bombs. Their orders at the outset were to, “disperse people trying to burn houses, but under no circumstances to take life”.

What Is The Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Falls–Shankill interface near Divis Tower

That evening, a nationalist crowd marched to Hastings Street RUC station, which they began to attack with stones for a second night. Loyalist crowds (wielding petrol bombs, bricks, stones, sharpened poles and protective dustbin lids) gathered at neighbouring Dover and Percy Streets.

 They were confronted by nationalists, who had hastily blocked their streets with barricades. Fighting broke out between the rival factions at about 11:00 pm. The RUC concentrated their efforts on the nationalist rioters, who they scattered with armoured cars. Catholics claimed that USC officers had been seen giving guns to the loyalists, while journalists reported seeing pike-wielding loyalists standing among the RUC officers.

From the nearby rooftop of Divis Tower flats, a group of nationalists would spend the rest of the night raining missiles on the police below. A chain of people were passing stones and petrol bombs from the ground to the roof.

Loyalists began pushing into the Falls Road area along Percy Street, Beverly Street and Dover Street. The rioters contained a rowdy gang of loyalist football supporters who had returned from a match.

 On Dover Street, the loyalist crowd was led by Ulster Unionist Party MP John McQuade. On Percy Street, a loyalist opened fire with a shotgun and USC officers helped the loyalists to push back the nationalists. As they entered the nationalist ghetto, loyalists began burning Catholic homes and businesses on Percy Street, Beverly Street and Dover Street.

At the intersection of Dover and Divis Street, an IRA unit opened fire on the crowd of RUC police officers and loyalists, who were trying to enter the Catholic area. Protestant Herbert Roy (26) was killed and three officers were wounded.

 At this point, the RUC, believing they were facing an organised IRA uprising, deployed Shorland armoured cars mounted with Browning machine guns,  whose .30 calibre bullets “tore through walls as if they were cardboard”.

In response to the RUC coming under fire at Divis Street, three Shorland armoured cars were called to the scene. The Shorlands were immediately attacked with gunfire, an explosive device and petrol bombs. The RUC believed that the shots had come from nearby Divis Tower. Gunners inside the Shorlands returned fire with their heavy machine-guns. At least thirteen Divis Tower flats were hit by high-velocity gunfire.

Patrick Rooney

 A nine-year-old boy, Patrick Rooney, was killed by machine-gun fire as he lay in bed in one of the flats. He was the first child to be killed in the violence.

See: 14th August 1969

At about 01:00, not long after the shooting of Patrick Rooney, the RUC again opened fire on Divis Tower. The shots killed Hugh McCabe (20), a Catholic soldier who was ‘on leave’. He and another had been on the roof of the Whitehall building (which was part of the Divis complex) and were pulling a wounded man to safety. The RUC claimed he was armed at the time and that gunfire was coming from the roof, but this was denied by many witnesses.

The Republican Labour Party MP for Belfast Central, Paddy Kennedy, who was on the scene, phoned the RUC headquarters and appealed to Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs, Robert Porter, for the Shorlands to be withdrawn and the shooting to stop. Porter replied that this was impossible as,

“the whole town is in rebellion”.

Porter told Kennedy that Donegall Street police station was under heavy machine-gun fire. In fact, it was undisturbed throughout the riots.

Sometime after the killing of Hugh McCabe, some 200 loyalists attacked Catholic Divis Street and began burning houses there. A unit of six IRA volunteers in St Comgall’s School shot at them with a rifle, a Thompson submachine gun and some pistols; keeping the attackers back and wounding eight of them. An RUC Shorland then arrived and opened fire on the school. The IRA gunmen returned fire and managed to escape.

Falls–Shankill interface near Clonard Monastery

West of St Comgall’s, loyalists broke through the nationalist barricades on Conway Street and burned two-thirds of the houses. Catholics claimed that the RUC held them back so that the loyalists could burn their homes. The Scarman Report found that RUC officers were on Conway Street when its houses were set alight, but “failed to take effective action”. Journalist Max Hastings wrote that loyalists on Conway Street had been begging the RUC to give them their guns.

Ardoyne

Rioting in Ardoyne, north of the city centre, began in the evening near Holy Cross Catholic church. Loyalists crossed over to the Catholic/nationalist side of Crumlin Road to attack Brookfield Street, Herbert Street, Butler Street and Hooker Street. These had been hastily blocked by nationalist barricades. Loyalists reportedly threw petrol bombs at Catholics “over the heads of RUC officers”,as RUC armoured cars were used to smash through the barricades.

IRA gunmen fired the first shots at the RUC, who responded by firing machine-guns down the streets, killing two Catholic civilians (Samuel McLarnon, 27, and Michael Lynch, 28) and wounding ten more.

Friday 15 August

The morning of 15 August saw many Catholic families in central Belfast flee to Andersonstown on the western fringes of the city, to escape the rioting. According to Bishop and Mallie,

“Each side’s perceptions of the other’s intentions had become so warped that the Protestants believed the Catholics were clearing the decks for a further attempt at insurrection in the evening”.

At 04:30 on Friday 15 August, the police commissioner for Belfast asked for military aid. From the early hours of Friday, the RUC had withdrawn to its bases to defend them. The interface areas were thus left unpoliced for half a day until the British Army arrived.

 The Deputy Police Commissioner had assumed that the British Army would be deployed by 10:00 or 11:00. At 12:25 that afternoon, the Northern Ireland cabinet finally sent a request for military aid to the Home Office in London. However, it would be another nine hours until the British Army arrived at the Falls/Shankill interface where it was needed.

Many Catholics and nationalists felt that they had been left at the mercy of the loyalists by the forces of the state who were meant to protect them.

The IRA, which had limited manpower and weaponry at the start of the riots, was also exhausted and low on ammunition. Its Belfast commander, Billy McMillen, and 19 other republicans were arrested by the RUC early on 15 August under the Special Powers Act.

There was fierce rioting in streets around Clonard Monastery , where hundreds of Catholic homes were burned

Falls–Shankill interface near Clonard Monastery

The Wall (Belfast Short documentary)

On 15 August, violence continued along the Falls/Shankill interface. Father PJ Egan of Clonard Monastery recalled that a large loyalist mob moved down Cupar Street at about 15:00 and was held back by nationalist youths. Shooting began at about 15:45. Egan claimed that himself and other priests at Clonard Monastery made at least four calls to the RUC for help, but none came.

A small IRA party under Billy McKee was present and had two .22 rifles at their disposal. They exchanged shots with a loyalist sniper who was firing from a house on Cupar Street, but failed to dislodge him, or to halt the burning of Catholic houses in the area.

 Almost all of the houses on Bombay Street were burned by the loyalists, and many others were burned on Kashmir Road and Cupar Street – the most extensive destruction of property during the riots.

A loyalist sniper shot dead Gerald McAuley (15), a member of the Fianna (IRA’s youth wing), as he helped people flee their homes on Bombay Street.

See: 15th August

At about 18:30 the British Army’s The Royal Regiment of Wales was deployed on the Falls Road, where they were greeted with subdued applause and cheering.

However, despite pleas from locals, they did not move into the streets that were being attacked. At about 21:35 that night, the soldiers finally took up positions at the blazing interface and blocked the streets with barbed-wire barricades. Father PJ Egan recalled that the soldiers called on the loyalists to surrender but they instead began shooting and throwing petrol bombs at the soldiers.

 The soldiers could only fire back on the orders of an officer when life was directly threatened. The loyalists continued shooting and burned more Catholic-owned houses on Bombay Street, but were stopped by soldiers using tear gas.

Ardoyne

Soldiers were not deployed in Ardoyne, and violence continued there on Friday night. Nationalists hijacked 50 buses from the local bus depot, set them on fire and used them as makeshift barricades to block access to Ardoyne. A Protestant civilian, David Linton (48), was shot dead by IRA gunmen at the Palmer Street/Crumlin Road junction.

Several Catholic-owned houses were set alight on Brookfield Street. The Scarman Report found that an RUC armoured vehicle was nearby when Brookfield Street was set alight, but made no move.

Saturday 16 August

On the evening of 16 August the British Army was deployed on Crumlin Road. Thereafter, the violence died down into what the Scarman report called, “the quiet of exhaustion”.

Disturbances elsewhere

Towns and cities where major riots took place

In aid of the Bogsiders, the NICRA executive decided to launch protests in towns across Northern Ireland.  The Scarman Report concluded that the spread of the disturbances “owed much to a deliberate decision by some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry”. It included the NICRA among these groups.

On the evening of 11 August a riot erupted in Dungannon after a meeting of the NICRA. This was quelled after the RUC baton charged nationalist rioters down Irish Street. There were claims of police brutality.

On 12 August, republicans attacked the RUC police stations in Coalisland, Strabane and Newry.

On 13 August there were further riots in Dungannon, Coalisland, Dungiven, Armagh and Newry. In Coalisland, USC officers opened fire on rioters without orders but were immediately ordered to stop.

On 14 August riots continued in Dungannon, Armagh and Newry. In Dungannon and Armagh, USC officers again opened fire on rioters. They fired 24 shots on Armagh’s Cathedral Road, killing Catholic civilian John Gallagher and wounding two others.

 In Newry, nationalist rioters surrounded the RUC station and attacked it with petrol bombs. In Crossmaglen on 17 August, the IRA attacked the local RUC station and withdrew after an exchange of fire.

Reactions

On 13 August, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Jack Lynch made a television address in which he stated that the Irish Defence Forces was setting up field hospitals along the border and called for United Nations intervention. He said:

It is evident that the Stormont Government is no longer in control of the situation. Indeed, the present situation is the inevitable outcome of the policies pursued for decades by successive Stormont Governments. It is clear, also, that the Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse. It is obvious that the R.U.C. is no longer accepted as an impartial police force. Neither would the employment of British troops be acceptable

The Irish Government have, therefore, requested the British Government to apply immediately to the United Nations for the urgent despatch of a Peace-keeping Force […] We have also asked the British Government to see to it that police attacks on the people of Derry should cease immediately.

When the Irish government met on 14 and 15 August, it decided to send troops to protect the field hospitals, and to call up the first line army reserves:

 “in readiness for participation in peace-keeping operations”.

This, along with Lynch’s statement, fuelled rumours that Irish troops were about to cross the border and intervene.  On 16 August, three Irish nationalist members of the Northern Ireland Parliament—Paddy Devlin, Paddy O’Hanlon and Paddy Kennedy—went to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. They demanded the Irish government send guns to protect Catholics in Northern Ireland, but this was refused.

The prime minister of Northern Ireland, James Chichester-Clark, responded:

 “In this grave situation, the behaviour of the Dublin Government has been deplorable, and tailor-made to inflame opinion on both sides”.

 On 14 August he stated in the Northern Ireland Parliament:

This is not the agitation of a minority seeking by lawful means the assertion of political rights. It is the conspiracy of forces seeking to overthrow a Government democratically elected by a large majority. What the teenage hooligans seek beyond cheap kicks I do not know. But of this I am quite certain – they are being manipulated and encouraged by those who seek to discredit and overthrow this Government”.

Chichester-Clark denied that his government was not doing enough to bring about the reforms sought by the civil rights movement, or that this was a cause of the violence. Instead, he said:

“The real cause of the disorder is to be found in the activities of extreme Republican elements and others determined to overthrow our State”.

On 23 August, Catholic Cardinal William Conway, together with the Bishops of Derry, Clogher, Dromore, Kilmore, and Down & Connor, issued a statement which included the following:

The fact is that on Thursday and Friday of last week the Catholic districts of Falls and Ardoyne were invaded by mobs equipped with machine-guns and other firearms. A community which was virtually defenceless was swept by gunfire and streets of Catholic homes were systematically set on fire. We entirely reject the hypothesis that the origin of last week’s tragedy was an armed insurrection.

The Irish republican party, Sinn Féin, issued a statement saying that

 “The present events in the Six Counties are the outcome of fifty years of British rule. The civil rights demands, moderate though they are, have shown us that Unionist rule is incompatible with democracy.  The question now is no longer civil rights, but the continuation of British rule in Ireland”.

Representatives of the British and Northern Ireland governments—including British prime minister Harold Wilson and Northern Irish prime minister Chichester-Clark—held a two-day meeting at 10 Downing Street, beginning on 19 August. A Communique and Declaration was issued at the end of the first day

It re-affirmed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland decided otherwise, and that the Northern Ireland and British governments are solely responsible for affairs in Northern Ireland.

 The Irish government failed to have a resolution on Northern Ireland put to a vote at the UN.

In late August, the Northern Ireland government announced the establishment of an inquiry into the riots, to be chaired by Justice Scarman (and known as the “Scarman Inquiry”).

A committee under Baron Hunt was also set up to consider reform of the Northern Ireland police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and reserve Ulster Special Constabulary, which led to the latter being disbanded.

Effects

The rioting petered out by Sunday, 17 August. By the end of the riots:

8 people had been killed, including:

5 Catholics shot dead by the RUC

2 Protestants shot dead by nationalist gunmen

1 Fianna member shot dead by loyalist gunmen

750 + people had been injured  – 133 (72 Catholics and 61 Protestants) of those injured suffered gunshot wounds

150+ Catholic homes  and 275 + businesses had been destroyed – 83% of all buildings destroyed were owned by Catholics

During July, August and September 1969, 1,820+ families had been forced to flee their homes, including

1,505 Catholic families

315 Protestant families

Catholics generally fled across the border into the Republic of Ireland, while Protestants generally fled to east Belfast.

 The Irish Defence Forces set up refugee camps in the Republic – at one point the Gormanston refugee camp held 6,000 refugees from Northern Ireland.

Long-term effects

The modern “peace line” at Bombay Street in Belfast, seen from the Irish Catholic/nationalist side..

The August riots were the most sustained violence that Northern Ireland had seen since the early 1920s. Many Protestants, loyalists and unionists believed the violence showed the true face of the Northern Ireland Catholic civil rights movement – as a front for the IRA and armed insurrection.

They had mixed feelings regarding the deployment of British Army troops into Northern Ireland. Eddie Kinner, a resident of Dover Street who would later join the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), vividly recalled the troops marching down his street with fixed bayonets and steel helmets. He and his neighbours had felt at the time as if they were being invaded by their “own army”.

 Catholics and nationalists, on the other hand, saw the riots (particularly in Belfast) as an assault on their community by loyalists and the forces of the state. The disturbances, taken together with the Battle of the Bogside, are often cited as the beginning of the Troubles. Violence escalated sharply in Northern Ireland after these events, with the formation of new paramilitary groups on either side, most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army in December of that year.

On the loyalist side, the UVF (formed in 1966) were galvanised by the August riots and in 1971, another paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association was founded out of a coalition of loyalist militants who had been active since August 1969. The largest of these were the Woodvale Defence Association, led by Charles Harding Smith, and the Shankill Defence Association, led by John McKeague, which had been responsible for what organisation there was of loyalist violence in the riots of August 1969. While the thousands of British Army troops sent to Northern Ireland were initially seen as a neutral force, they quickly got dragged into the street violence and by 1971 were devoting most of their attention to combatting republican paramilitaries.

The Irish Republican Army

The role of the IRA in the riots has long been disputed. At the time, the organisation was blamed by the Northern Ireland authorities for the violence. However, it was very badly prepared to defend nationalist areas of Belfast, having few weapons or fighters on the ground.

The Scarman Inquiry, set up by the British government to investigate the causes of the riots, concluded:

Undoubtedly there was an IRA influence at work in the DCDA (Derry Citizens’ Defence Association) in Londonderry, in the Ardoyne and Falls Road areas of Belfast, and in Newry. But they did not start the riots, or plan them: indeed, the evidence is that the IRA was taken by surprise and did less than many of their supporters thought they should have done.

In nationalist areas, the IRA was reportedly blamed for having failed to protect areas like Bombay Street and Ardoyne from being burned out. A Catholic priest, Fr Gillespie, reported that in Ardoyne the IRA was being derided in graffiti as:

 “I Ran Away”.

However, IRA veterans of the time, who spoke to authors Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, disputed this interpretation. One, Sean O’Hare, said:

 “I never saw it written on a wall. That wasn’t the attitude. People fell in behind the IRA, stood behind them 100%”. Another, Sean Curry, recalled, “some people were a bit angry but most praised the people who did defend the area. They knew that if the men weren’t there, the area wouldn’t have been defended.”

At the time, the IRA released a statement on 18 August, saying, it had been, “in action in Belfast and Derry” and “fully equipped units had been sent to the border”. It had been, “reluctantly compelled into action by Orange murder gangs” and warned the British Army that if it, “was used to supress [sic] the legitimate demands of the people they will have to take the consequences” and urged the Irish government to send the Irish Army over the border.

Cathal Goulding, the IRA Chief of Staff, sent small units from Dublin, Cork and Kerry to border counties of Donegal, Leitrim and Monaghan, with orders to attack RUC posts in Northern Ireland and draw off pressure from Belfast and Derry. A total of 96 weapons and 12,000 rounds of ammunition were also sent to the North.

Nevertheless, the poor state of IRA arms and military capability in August 1969 led to a bitter split in the IRA in Belfast. According to Hanley and Millar, “dissensions that pre-dated August [1969] had been given a powerful emotional focus”.

In September 1969, a group of IRA men led by Billy McKee and Joe Cahill stated that they would no longer be taking orders from the Dublin leadership of the IRA, or from Billy McMillen (their commander in Belfast) because they had not provided enough weapons or planning to defend nationalist areas. In December 1969, they broke away to form the Provisional IRA and vowed to defend areas from attack by loyalists and the RUC. The other wing of the IRA became known as the Official IRA. Shortly after its formation, the Provisional IRA launched an offensive campaign against the state of Northern Ireland.

The RUC and USC

The RUC: A Force Under Fire

The actions of the RUC in the August 1969 riots are perhaps the most contentious issue arising out of the disturbances. Nationalists argue that the RUC acted in a blatantly biased manner, helping loyalists who were assaulting Catholic neighbourhoods. There were also strong suggestions that police knew when loyalist attacks were to happen and seemed to disappear from some Catholic areas shortly before loyalist mobs attacked.

This perception discredited the police in the eyes of many nationalists and later allowed the IRA to effectively take over policing in nationalist areas. In his study, From Civil Rights to Armalites, nationalist author Niall Ó Dochartaigh argues that the actions of the RUC and USC were the key factor in the worsening of the conflict. He wrote:

From the outset, the response of the state and its forces of law and order to Catholic mobilisation was an issue capable of arousing far more anger and activism than the issues around which mobilisation had begun. Police behaviour and their interaction with loyalist protesters probably did more to politically mobilise large sections of the Catholic community than did any of the other grievances.

The Scarman Inquiry found that the RUC were “seriously at fault” on at least six occasions during the rioting. Specifically, they criticised the RUC’s use of Browning heavy machine-guns in built-up areas, their failure to stop Protestants from burning down Catholic homes, and their withdrawal from the streets long before the Army arrived. However, the Scarman Report concluded that, “Undoubtedly mistakes were made and certain individual officers acted wrongly on occasions.

But the general case of a partisan force co-operating with Protestant crowds to attack Catholic people is devoid of substance, and we reject it utterly”.

The report argued that the RUC were under-strength, poorly led and that their conduct in the riots was explained by their perception that they were dealing with a co-ordinated IRA uprising. They pointed to the RUC’s dispersal of loyalist rioters in Belfast on 2–4 August in support of the force’s impartiality.

Of the B-Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary or USC), the Scarman Report said:

There were grave objections, well understood by those in authority, to the use of the USC in communal disturbances. In 1969 the USC contained no Catholics but was a force drawn from the Protestant section of the community. Totally distrusted by the Catholics, who saw them as the strong arm of the Protestant ascendancy, they could not show themselves in a Catholic area without heightening tension. Moreover, they were neither trained nor equipped for riot control duty.

The report found that the Specials had fired on Catholic demonstrators in Dungiven, Coalisland, Dungannon and Armagh, causing casualties, which, “was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do”. It found that USC officers had, on occasion, sided with loyalist mobs. There were reports that USC officers were spotted hiding among loyalist mobs, using coats to hide their uniforms. Nevertheless, the Scarman Report concluded, “there are no grounds for singling out mobilised USC as being guilty of misconduct”.

See: The B Specials

Main Source : Wikipedia

See also

See: The Troubles

See: Operation Banner

See: : 1969 Northern Ireland riots

See: 1886 Belfast Riots between Catholics & Protestants

Battle of the Bogside – Northern Ireland History

Battle of the Bogside –  Northern Ireland History

12–14 August 1969

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Start Of The Battle Of The Bogside, 12th August 1969

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Apprentice Boys March, Derry, 12th August 1969

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The Battle of the Bogside was a very large communal riot that took place during 12–14 August 1969 in Derry, Northern Ireland. The fighting was between residents of the Bogside area (organised under the Derry Citizens’ Defence Association), and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) along wih local unionists.

 – Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

The rioting erupted at the end of an Apprentice Boys parade which was passing along the city walls, past the Catholic Bogside. Fierce rioting broke out between local unionists and the police on one side and Catholics on the other. Rioting between police and Bogside residents continued for three days. The police were unable to enter the area and eventually the British Army was deployed to restore order.

The riot, which sparked widespread violence elsewhere in Northern Ireland, is commonly seen as one of the first major confrontations in the conflict known as the Troubles.

Background

Tensions had been building in Derry for over a year before the Battle of the Bogside. In part, this was due to long-standing grievances held by much of the city’s population. The city had a majority Catholic and nationalist population. In 1961, for example, the population was 53,744, of which 36,049 was Catholic and 17,695 Protestant.

However, because of gerrymandering after the partition of Ireland, it had been ruled by the Ulster Unionist Party since 1925.

Nationalist grievances

Unionists maintained political control of Derry by two means. Firstly, electoral wards were designed so as to give unionists a majority of elected representatives in the city. The Londonderry County Borough, which covered the city, had been won by nationalists in 1921. It was recovered by unionists, however, following re-drawing of electoral boundaries by the unionist government in the Northern Ireland Parliament.

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Battle of the Bogside;Full Documentary.

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Secondly, only owners or tenants of a dwelling and their spouses were allowed to vote in local elections. Nationalists argued that these practices were retained by unionists after their abolition in Great Britain in 1945 in order to reduce the anti-unionist vote. Figures show that, in Derry city, nationalists comprised 61.6% of parliamentary electors, but only 54.7% of local government electors.

There was also widespread discrimination in employment.

As a result, although Catholics made up 60% of Derry’s population in 1961,  due to the division of electoral wards, unionists had a majority of 12 seats to 8 on the city council. When there arose the possibility of nationalists gaining one of the wards, the boundaries were redrawn to maintain unionist control.

Control of the city council gave unionists control over the allocation of public housing, which they allocated in such a way as to keep the Catholic population in a limited number of wards. This policy had the additional effect of creating a housing shortage for Catholics.

Another grievance, highlighted by the Cameron Commission into the riots of 1969, was the issue of perceived regional bias; where Northern Ireland government decisions favoured the mainly Ulster Protestant east of Northern Ireland rather than the mainly Catholic west.

Examples of such controversial decisions affecting Derry were the decision to close the anti-submarine training school in 1965, adding 600 to an unemployment figure already approaching 20%; the decision to site Northern Ireland’s new town at Craigavon and the siting of Northern Ireland’s second university in the mainly unionist town of Coleraine rather than Derry, which had four times the population and was Northern Ireland’s second biggest city.

Activism

In March 1968, a small number of activists in the city founded the Derry Housing Action Committee, with the intention of forcing the government of Northern Ireland to change its housing policies. The group’s founders were mostly local members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, such as Eamonn McCann, and members of the James Connolly Republican Club (the Northern manifestation of Sinn Féin, which was banned in Northern Ireland). The Housing Action Committee took direct action such as blocking roads and attending local council meetings uninvited in order to force them to house Catholic families who had been on council housing waiting list for a long time.

By the summer of 1968, this group had linked up with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and were agitating for a broader programme of reform within Northern Ireland.

On 5 October 1968, these activists organised a march through the centre of Derry. However, the demonstration was banned. When the marchers, including Members of Parliament Eddie McAteer and Ivan Cooper, defied this ban they were batoned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The actions of the police were televised and caused widespread anger across Ireland, particularly among northern nationalists. The following day, 4,000 people demonstrated in solidarity with the marchers in Guildhall Square in the centre of Derry.

This march passed off peacefully, as did another demonstration attended by up to 15,000 people on 16 November. However, these incidents proved to be the start of an escalating pattern of civil unrest, that culminated in the events of August 1969.

Free Derry Corner in the Bogside; the slogan “You are now entering Free Derry” was first painted in January 1969 by John Casey

January to July, 1969

In January 1969, a march by the radical nationalist group People’s Democracy from Belfast to Derry was attacked by off-duty Ulster Special Constabulary members and other Ulster loyalists during the Burntollet bridge incident, five miles outside Derry.[13][14][15] The regular police refused to protect the marchers. When the marchers (many of whom were injured) arrived in Derry on 5 January, fighting broke out between their supporters and the police. That night, police officers broke into homes in the Catholic Bogside area and assaulted several residents.

An inquiry led by Lord Cameron concluded that:

“a number of policemen were guilty of misconduct, which involved assault and battery, malicious damage to property…and the use of provocative sectarian and political slogans”.

After this point, barricades were set up in the Bogside and vigilante patrols organised to keep the police out. It was at this point that the famous mural with the slogan “You are now entering Free Derry” was painted on the corner of Columbs Street by a local activist named John Casey.

On 19 April there were clashes between NICRA marchers, loyalists and the police in the Bogside area. Police officers entered the house of Samuel Devenny (42), a local Catholic who was not involved in the riot, and severely beat him with batons. His teenage daughters were also beaten in the attack. Devenny died of his injuries on 17 July[17] and he is sometimes referred to as the first victim of the Troubles.

Others consider John Patrick Scullion, who was killed 11 June 1966 by the Ulster Volunteer Force, to have been the first victim of the conflict.

On 12 July (“The Twelfth“) there was further rioting in Derry, nearby Dungiven, and Belfast. The violence arose out of the yearly Orange Order marches. During the clashes in Dungiven, Catholic civilian Francis McCloskey (67) was beaten with batons by police officers and died of his injuries the following day.

Image result for battle of the bogside

Following these riots, Irish republicans in Derry set up the Derry Citizens Defence Association, with the intention of preparing for future disturbances. The members of the DCDA were initially Republican Club (and possibly IRA) activists, but they were joined by many other left-wing activists and local people. This group stated their aim as firstly to keep the peace, but if this failed, to organise the defence of the Bogside. To this end, they stockpiled materials for barricades and missiles, ahead of the Apprentice Boys of Derry march on 12 August.

The Apprentice Boys march

The Bogside in 2004, looking down from the city walls. The area has been greatly redeveloped since 1969, with the demolition of much of the old slum housing and the Rossville Street flats.

The annual Apprentice Boys parade on 12 August commemorated the Protestant victory in the Siege of Derry in 1689 and was considered highly provocative by many Catholics. Derry activist Eamonn McCann wrote that the march:

“was regarded as a calculated insult to the Derry Catholics”.

Although the march did not pass through the Bogside, it passed close to it at the junction of Waterloo Place and William Street. It was here that trouble broke out. Initially, some loyalists had thrown pennies from the top of the walls at Catholics in the Bogside below, in return marbles where fired by catapult. As the parade passed the perimeter of the Bogside, Catholics hurled stones and nails resulting in an intense confrontation.

The police, who had suffered a barrage of missiles, then moved in. Whilst the police fought with the rioters at William Street, officers at the Rossville Street barricade encouraged civilian Protestants catapulting stones across the barricade at the Catholics. The police then tried to alleviate the pressure they were under by dismantling the barricade.

The result of this was the creation of a gap allowing Protestants through, convincing the Catholic residents that their homes were going to be attacked.

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The police were unable to get into the Bogside. Nationalists lobbed petrol bombs from the top of the Rossville Flats, halting the police advance, with 43 of the 59 officers who made the initial incursion injured.

As this happened the people of Derry, numbering in their hundreds, continued to fight each other, with petrol bombs and stones thrown between loyalists and nationalists.

The Battle

The actions of the Bogside residents were co-ordinated to some extent. The Derry Citizens Defence Association set up a headquarters in the house of Paddy Doherty in Westland Street and tried to supervise the making of petrol bombs and the positioning of barricades. They also set up “Radio Free Derry.” Many local people, however, joined in the rioting on their own initiative and impromptu leaders also emerged, such as Bernadette Devlin, Eamonn McCann and others.

Local youths climbed onto the roof of the High Flats on Rossville Street, from where they bombarded the police below with missiles. When the advantage that this position possessed was realised, the youths were kept supplied with stones and petrol bombs.

The police were in many respects badly prepared for the riot. Their riot shields were too small and did not protect their whole bodies. In addition, their uniforms were not flame resistant and a number were badly burned by petrol bombs. They possessed armoured cars and guns, but were not permitted to use them. Moreover, there was no system in place to relieve officers, with the result that the same policemen had to serve in the rioting for three days without rest.

The police responded to this situation by flooding the area with CS gas, which caused a range of respiratory injuries among the local people. A total of 1,091 canisters containing 12.5g of CS; and 14 canisters containing 50g of CS, were released in the densely populated residential area.

After two days of almost continuous rioting, during which police were drafted in from all over Northern Ireland, the police were exhausted, and were snatching sleep in doorways whenever the opportunity allowed.

On 13 August, Jack Lynch, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland made a televised speech about the events in Derry, in which he said that he “could not stand by and watch innocent people injured and perhaps worse.” He promised to send the Irish Army to the border and to set up field hospitals for those injured in the fighting. Lynch’s words were widely interpreted in the Bogside as promising that Irish troops were about to be sent to their aid. Unionists were appalled at this prospect, which they saw as a threatened invasion of Northern Ireland. In fact, although the Irish Army was indeed sent to the border, they restricted their activities to providing medical care for the injured.

By 14 August, the rioting in the Bogside had reached a critical point. Almost the entire community there had been mobilised by this point, many galvanised by false rumours that St Eugene’s Cathedral had been attacked by the police. The police were also beginning to use firearms. Two rioters were shot and injured in Great James’ Street. The B-Specials, a reserve quasi-military, mostly Protestant police force with no training in crowd control, much feared by Catholics for their alleged role in killings in the 1920s, were called up and sent to Derry, provoking fears of a massacre on the part of the Bogsiders.

James Chichester-Clark 1970.jpg

On the afternoon of the 14th, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Chichester-Clark, took the unprecedented step of requesting the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson for troops to be sent to Derry. Soon afterwards a company of the 1st Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire (who had been on standby at HMS Sea Eagle) relieved the police, with orders to separate the police and the Bogsiders, but not to attempt to breach the barricades and enter the Bogside itself.

This marked the first direct intervention of the London government in Ireland since partition. The British troops were at first welcomed by the Bogside residents as a neutral force compared to the police and especially the B-Specials.

Only a handful of radicals in Bogside, notably Bernadette Devlin, opposed the deployment of British troops. This good relationship did not last long however, as the Troubles escalated.

Over 1000 people had been injured in the rioting in Derry, but no one was killed. A total of 691 police men were deployed in Derry during the riot, of whom only 255 were still in action at 12.30 on the 15th. Manpower then fluctuated for the rest of the afternoon: the numbers recorded are 318, 304, 374, 333, 285 and finally 327 at 5.30 pm. While some of the fluctuation in numbers can be put down to exhaustion rather than injury, these figures indicate that the police suffered at least 350 serious injuries.

How many Bogsiders were injured is unclear, as many injuries were never reported.

Rioting elsewhere

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A call by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association for people to stretch police resources to aid the Bogsiders led to rioting in Belfast and elsewhere, which left five Catholics and two Protestants dead.

That same night (the 14th) a loyalist mob burned all of the Catholic homes on Bombay Street. Over 1,500 Catholics were expelled from their homes in Belfast. Taken together with events in Derry, this period of rioting is widely seen  as the point in which The Troubles escalated from a situation of civil unrest to one of a three-way armed conflict between nationalists, state forces and unionists.

See: 13th August – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

 – Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

The views and opinions expressed in this page and  documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.

They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

Provisional Irish Republican Army

The IRA were responsible for approx.  1,823 deaths

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IRA Bombers (IRA Documentary

 


Gaddafi and the IRA – Full

 


The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA or PIRA) was[5][6][7][8] an Irish republican paramilitary organisation that sought to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about an independent republic encompassing all of Ireland.[9][10] It was the biggest and most active republican paramilitary group during the Troubles. It saw itself as the successor to the original IRA and called itself simply the Irish Republican Army, or Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish.[11] It was also widely referred to as such by others. The IRA is designated an unlawful terrorist organisation in the UK and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][13]

The Provisional IRA emerged in December 1969, following a split in the republican movement. The Troubles had begun a year before, when a Catholic, nonviolent civil rights campaign was met with violence from both Ulster loyalists and the police, culminating in the August 1969 riots and deployment of British troops.[14]

Secret Undercover British Army Terrorist Force – Military Reaction Force Disclosed

 

The IRA initially focused on defence, but it began an offensive campaign in 1971 (see timeline). The IRA’s primary goal was to force the British to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. It used guerrilla tactics against the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary in both rural and urban areas. It also carried out a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and England against what it saw as political and economic targets. Telephoned warnings were usually sent before such bombings. The IRA called a final ceasefire in July 1997, when Sinn Féin were re-admitted into the Northern Ireland peace talks. It supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and in 2005 it disarmed under international supervision.

Overview of strategies

The IRA’s initial strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the government of Northern Ireland and to inflict enough casualties on British forces that the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from the region.[15] This policy involved recruitment of volunteers, increasing after the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident, in which the British military killed unarmed protesters, and launching attacks against British military and economic targets.[16][17] The campaign was supported by arms and funding from Libya[18] and from some groups in the United States.[19][20]

The IRA agreed to a ceasefire in February 1975, which lasted nearly a year[21] before the IRA concluded that the British were drawing them into politics without offering any guarantees in relation to the IRA’s goals (as well as launching an intelligence offensive),[22] and hopes of a quick victory receded.[23] 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 the political party Sinn Féin.[24]

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to the Armalite and ballot box strategy, with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The abortive attempt at an escalation of the military part of that strategy led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political compromise to end the conflict, with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government, dependent on Ulster Unionist Party votes at Westminster, then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the IRA called off its ceasefire in February 1996.

This demand was quickly dropped after the May 1997 general election in the UK. The IRA ceasefire was then reinstated in July 1997 and Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 640 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members[28] and an estimated 10,000 imprisoned at various times over the 30-year period.[1][29]

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

On 26 July 2012, it was announced that some former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were merging with the Real Irish Republican Army, other independent republican paramilitary groups and the vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (but, notably, not with the Continuity Irish Republican Army) into a unified formation known simply as the “Irish Republican Army”.[34][35] This new IRA group is estimated by Police Service of Northern Ireland intelligence sources to have between 250 and 300 active militants and many more supporting associates.[36]

Origins

An IRA badge – the Phoenix is frequently used to symbolise the origins of the Provisional IRA.

In August 1969, a confrontation between Catholic residents of the Bogside and police Londonderry ollowing an Apprentice Boys of Derry march led to a large communal riot now referred to as the Battle of the Bogside – three days of fighting between rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs and police who saturated the area with CS gas.

Protests and riots organised by NICRA in support of the Bogsiders began elsewhere in the Province sparking retaliation by Protestant mobs; the subsequent burning, damage to property and intimidation largely against the minority community forced 1,505 Catholics from their homes in Belfast in what became known as the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, with over 200 Catholic homes being destroyed or requiring major repairs[14] and a number of people were killed on both sides, some by the forces of law and order. The Irish Republican Army had been poorly armed and unable to adequately defend the Catholic community, which had been considered one of its traditional roles since the 1920s.[37]

Veteran republicans were critical of the IRA’s Dublin leadership which, for political reasons, had refused to prepare for aggressive action in advance of the violence.[38][39] On 24 August Joe Cahill, Seamus Twomey, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Billy McKee and several other future Provisional leaders came together in Belfast intending to remove the Belfast leadership and turn back to traditional militant republicanism.[40] Although the pro-Goulding commander Billy McMillen stayed in command, he was told it was only for three months and he was not to have any communication with the IRA’s Dublin based leadership.[40]

Traditional republicans formed the “Provisional” Army Council in December 1969, after an IRA Army convention was held at Knockvicar House in Boyle, County Roscommon.[41][42][43] The two main issues were the acceptance of the “National Liberation Strategy” and a motion to end abstentionism and to recognise the British, Irish and Northern Ireland parliaments. While the motion on the “National Liberation Strategy” was passed unanimously[43] the motion on abstentionism was only passed by 28 votes to 12. Opponents of this change argued strongly against the ending of abstentionism, and when the vote took place, Seán Mac Stíofáin, present as IRA Director of Intelligence, announced that he no longer considered that the IRA leadership represented republican goals.[44] However, there was not a walkout. Those opposed, who included Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, refused to go forward for election to the new IRA Executive.[45]

While others canvassed support throughout Ireland, Mac Stíofáin was a key person making a connection with the Belfast IRA under Billy McKee and Joe Cahill, who had refused to take orders from the IRA’s Dublin leadership since September 1969, in protest at their failure to defend Catholic areas in August.[46][47] Nine out of thirteen IRA units in Belfast sided with the Provisionals in December 1969, roughly 120 activists and 500 supporters.[48] The first “Provisional” Army Council was composed of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Paddy Mulcahy, Sean Tracey, Leo Martin, and Joe Cahill,[49] and issued their first public statement on 28 December 1969, stating:

We declare our allegiance to the 32 county Irish republic, proclaimed at Easter 1916, established by the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, overthrown by forces of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British-imposed six-county and twenty-six-county partition states.[50]

The Sinn Féin party split along the same lines on 11 January 1970, when a third of the delegates walked out of the Ard Fheis in protest at the party leadership’s attempt to force through the ending of abstentionism, despite its failure to achieve a two-thirds majority vote of delegates required to change the policy.[51] Despite the declared support of that faction of Sinn Féin, the early Provisional IRA was extremely suspicious of political activity, arguing rather for the primacy of armed struggle.[52]

There are allegations that the early Provisional IRA received arms and funding from the Fianna Fáil-led Irish government in 1969, resulting in the 1970 “Arms trial” in which criminal charges were pursued against two former government ministers. Roughly £100,000 was donated by the Irish government to “Defence Committees” in Catholic areas and, according to historian Richard English, “there is now no doubt that some money did go from the Dublin government to the proto-Provisionals”.[53]

The Provisionals maintained the principles of the pre-1969 IRA; they considered both British rule in Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Ireland to be illegitimate, insisting that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council was the only valid government, as head of an all-island Irish Republic. This belief was based on a series of perceived political inheritances which constructed a legal continuity from the Second Dáil.[54][55]

The Provisionals inherited most of the existing IRA organisation in the north by 1971 and the more militant IRA members in the rest of Ireland. In addition, they recruited many young nationalists from the north, who had not been involved in the IRA before, but had been radicalised by the communal violence that broke out in 1969. These people were known in republican parlance as “sixty niners”, having joined after 1969.[56] The Provisional IRA adopted the Phoenix as symbol of the Irish republican rebirth in 1969. One of its common slogans is “out of the ashes rose the provisionals”.[57]

Organisation

The Provisional IRA was organised hierarchically. At the top of the organisation was the IRA Army Council, headed by the IRA Chief of Staff.

Leadership

All levels of the organisation were entitled to send delegates to IRA General Army Conventions (GACs). The GAC was the IRA’s supreme decision-making authority. Before 1969, GACs met regularly. Since 1969, there have only been two, in 1970 and 1986, owing to the difficulty in organising such a large gathering of an illegal organisation in secret.[58][59]

The GAC in turn elected a 12-member IRA Executive, which selected seven volunteers to form the IRA Army Council.[58] For day-to-day purposes, authority was vested in the Army Council which, as well as directing policy and taking major tactical decisions, appointed a Chief of Staff from one of its number or, less commonly, from outside its ranks.[60]

PIRA re-enacment in Galbally, County Tyrone (2009)

The Chief of Staff would appoint an adjutant general as well as a General Headquarters (GHQ), which consisted of heads of the following departments:

  • Armory
  • Finance
  • Engineering
  • Training
  • Intelligence
  • Publicity
  • Operations
  • Security

Regional command

Republican colour party in Dublin – March 2009. The blue flag being carried at the front is that of “Dublin Brigade IRA”

The IRA was divided into a Northern Command, which operated in the nine Ulster counties as well as County Leitrim and County Louth, and a Southern Command, operating in the rest of Ireland. The Provisional IRA was originally commanded by a leadership based in Dublin. However, in 1977, parallel to the introduction of cell structures at local level, command of the “war-zone” was given to the Northern Command. According to Ed Moloney, these moves at reorganisation were the idea of Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams and Brian Keenan.[61]

Brigades

The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers (or óglaigh in Irish). Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers were organised in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one area formed a company as part of a battalion, which could be part of a brigade, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.

For most of its existence, the IRA had five Brigade areas within what it referred to as the “war-zone”. These Brigades were located in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Donegal and Tyrone/Monaghan.[62] The Belfast Brigade had three battalions, respectively in the west, north and east of the city. In the early years of the Troubles, the IRA in Belfast expanded rapidly. In August 1969, the Belfast Brigade had just 50 active members. By the end of 1971, it had 1,200 members, giving it a large but loosely controlled structure.[63]

The Derry Brigade had two battalions – one based in Derry City, known as the South Derry Brigade, and another in Donegal. The Derry Battalion became the Derry Brigade in 1972 after a rapid increase in membership following Bloody Sunday when British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed demonstrators at a civil rights march.[64] Volunteers based in Donegal were a part of the Derry Brigade as well. County Armagh had three battalions, two very active ones in South Armagh and a less active unit in North Armagh. For this reason the Armagh IRA unit is often referred to as the South Armagh Brigade. Similarly, the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade, which operated from around the Border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is often called the East Tyrone Brigade. Fermanagh, South Down and North Antrim had units not attached to Brigades.[65] The leadership structure at battalion and company level was the same: each had its own commanding officer, quartermaster, explosives officer and intelligence officer. There was sometimes a training officer or finance officer.

Active service units

Ulster Defence Association – Hunting The IRA (Documentary

 

From 1973, the IRA started to move away from the larger conventional military organisational principle owing to its security vulnerability.[66] A system of two parallel types of unit within an IRA brigade was introduced in place of the battalion structures. Firstly, the old “company” structures were used for tasks such as “policing” nationalist areas, intelligence gathering, and hiding weapons. These were essential support activities. However, the bulk of actual attacks were the responsibility of a second type of unit, the active service unit (ASU). To improve security and operational capacity, these ASUs were smaller, tight-knit cells, usually consisting of five to eight members. The ASU’s weapons were controlled by a brigade’s quartermaster.[67] By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was estimated that in the late 1980s the IRA had roughly 300 members in ASUs and about another 450 serving in supporting roles.[65]

The exception to this reorganisation was the South Armagh Brigade, which retained its traditional hierarchy and battalion structure and used relatively large numbers of volunteers in its actions.[68]

The IRA’s Southern Command, located in the Republic of Ireland, consists of a Dublin Brigade and a number of smaller units in rural areas. These were charged mainly with the importation and storage of arms for the Northern units and with raising finances through robberies and other means.[69]

Details on strategy 1969–1998

Initial phase

Following the violence of August 1969, the IRA began to arm and train to protect nationalist areas from further attack.[70] After the Provisionals’ split from the Official IRA the Provisional IRA began planning for an all-out offensive action against what it claimed was British occupation.[71]

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.[72] 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”.[15] 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″.[16] 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”.[73]

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, Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ivor Bell, Seamus Twomey, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met a British delegation led by William Whitelaw. The Irish republicans 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.[74]

Éire Nua and the 1975 ceasefire

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 IRA policy until discontinued by the Army Council in 1979.[75] Éire Nua remained Sinn Féin policy until 1982.[76]

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.[23] 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. At this time, the IRA leadership, short of money, weapons and members, was on the brink of calling off the campaign. The ceasefire, however, broke down in January 1976.[21]

The “Long War

IRA political poster from the 1980s, featuring a quote from Bobby Sands – “There can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically”.

Thereafter, the IRA evolved a new strategy which they called the “Long War”. This underpinned IRA strategy for the rest of the Troubles and involved the 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 Sinn Féin. 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”.[77] The 1977 edition of the Green Book, an induction and training manual used by the IRA, 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.[78]

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 IRA leadership to interest the British authorities in another long ceasefire.”[79]

1981 hunger strikes and electoral politics

Insight: The 1981 Hunger Strike 20 Years On – 2001

 

IRA funeral, 1981

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.[80]

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”.[81]

Peace strategy

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to what was referred to by Danny Morrison as, “the Armalite and ballot box strategy” with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The perceived stalemate along with British government’s hints of a compromise[82] and secret approaches in the early 1990s led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political agreement to end the conflict,[83][84] with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the organisation called off its ceasefire in February 1996. The renewed bombings caused severe economic damage, with the Manchester bombing and the Docklands bombing causing approximately £500 million in combined damage. After the ceasefire was reinstated in July 1997, Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 630 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members,[28] of an estimated 10,000 total over the 30-year period.[1]

According to author Ed Moloney, the IRA made an attempt to escalate the conflict with the so-called “Tet Offensive” in the 1980s, which was reluctantly approved by the Army Council and did not prove successful. On the other hand, public speeches from two Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, Peter Brooke[85] and Patrick Mayhew[86] hint that, given the cessation of violence, a political compromise with the IRA was possible. Gerry Adams entered talks with John Hume, the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1993, and secret talks were also conducted since 1991 between Martin McGuinness and a senior MI6 officer, Michael Oatley.[82][84][87] 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.[88] 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”.[89]

Weaponry and operations

The Armalite AR-18, obtained by the IRA from an IRA member in the United States in the early 1970s, was an emotive symbol of its armed campaign

An AK-47 assault rifle (over 1,000 of which were donated by Muammar Gaddafi to the IRA in the 1980s)

Heckler & Koch G3. 100 of these, stolen from the Norwegian police, finished up with the IRA

In the early days of the Troubles the IRA was very poorly armed, mainly with old World War II weaponry such as M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns, but starting in the early 1970s it procured large amounts of modern weaponry from such sources as supporters in the United States, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,[21] and arms dealers in Europe, America, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Libyans supplied the IRA with the RPG-7.

The RPG-7

In the first years of the conflict, the IRA’s main activities were providing firepower to support nationalist rioters and defending nationalist areas from attacks. The IRA gained much of its support from these activities, as they were widely perceived within the nationalist community as being defenders of Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic people against aggression.[90]

Grand Hotel following a bomb attack

 
————————————

Thatcher and the IRA Dealing with Terror BBC Documentary 2014 Full

 

From 1971–1994, the IRA launched a sustained offensive armed campaign that mainly targeted the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and economic targets in Northern Ireland. In addition, some IRA members carried out attacks against Protestant civilians.[91]

The IRA was chiefly active in Northern Ireland, although it took its campaign to England and mainland Europe. The IRA also targeted certain British government officials, politicians, judges, establishment figures, British Army and police officers in England, and in other areas such as the Republic of Ireland, West Germany and the Netherlands. By the early 1990s, the bulk of the IRA activity was carried out by the South Armagh Brigade,[citation needed] well known through its sniping operations and attacks on British Army helicopters. The bombing campaign principally targeted political, economic and military targets, and approximately 60 civilians were killed by the IRA in England during the conflict.[92]

It has been argued that this bombing campaign helped convince the British government (who had hoped to contain the conflict to Northern Ireland with its Ulsterisation policy) to negotiate with Sinn Féin after the IRA ceasefires of August 1994 and July 1997.[93][94]

Ceasefires and decommissioning of arms

On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire. However, from February 1996 until July 1997, the 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.[95]

The IRA decommissioned all of its remaining 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:

A “Sniper at Work” sign in Crossmaglen. The PIRA used snipers as a tactic in south Armagh to disrupt foot patrols

Having compared the weapons destroyed with the British security forces’ estimates of the IRA weaponry, and because of the IRA’s full involvement in the process of destroying the weapons, the IICD arrived at their conclusion that all IRA weaponry has been destroyed.[97]

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.[98] In its report dated April 2006 the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) stated that it had no reason to disbelieve the IRA or to suspect that it had not fully decommissioned. It believed that any weaponry that had not been handed in had been retained locally and against the wishes of the IRA leadership.[99] The Russian and British Intelligence services alleged that during the decommissioning process the IRA secretly purchased a consignment of 20 Russian special forces AN-94 rifles in Moscow.[100][101][102]

In mid-July 2013, the Gardaí displayed arms and explosives (Semtex) recently recovered from dissident republicans in the Dublin area. The Gardaí believe this Semtex to have come from the Libyan connection back in the 1980s and therefore should have been decommissioned.[103][104][105]

Other activities

Apart from its armed campaign, the IRA has also been involved in many other activities.

Sectarian attacks

IRA, purely sectarian, calculated slaughter of Protestants at Kingsmill

 

The IRA publicly condemned sectarianism and sectarian attacks.[106] However, some IRA members became involved in sectarian tit-for-tat violence and attacked Protestants in retaliation for attacks on Catholics.[106] Of those killed by the IRA, Sutton classifies 130 (about 7%) of them as sectarian killings of Protestants.[107] Unlike loyalists, the IRA denied responsibility for sectarian attacks and the members involved used covernames, such as Republican Action Force.[108][109] Many in the IRA opposed these sectarian attacks, but others deemed them effective in preventing sectarian attacks on Catholics.[110]

Some unionists allege that the IRA took part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Protestant minority in rural border areas, such as Fermanagh.[111][112] Many local Protestants allegedly believed that the IRA tried to force them into leaving. However, most Protestants killed by the IRA in these areas were members of the security forces, and there was no exodus of Protestants.[113]

Alleged involvement in organised crime

The IRA have allegedly been involved in criminal activities, including racketeering, bank robbery, fuel laundering, drug dealing and kidnapping.[114][115][116]

In 2004, £26.5m was stolen from the Northern Bank‘s vaults in Belfast city centre. The British and Irish governments agreed with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s report blaming the robbery on the IRA.[117] On 18 January 2005, the IRA issued a statement denying any involvement in the robbery.[118] In February 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission’s Fourth Report stated their belief that the robbery was carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the IRA’s leadership.[119] Commentators including Suzanne Breen have stated that the IRA was the only organisation capable of carrying out the raid.[120] In May 2009, two men were arrested in Cork, and charged with IRA membership and offences relating to the robbery.[121]

According to several sources, the organisation has also been involved in the Irish drugs trade. A 1999 report by John Horgan and Max Taylor cited Royal Ulster Constabulary reports, alleging that this involves the “licensing” of drug operations to criminal gangs and the payment of protection money, rather than direct involvement.[114][122][123] However, Chief of the RUC Drugs Squad Kevin Sheehy notes “the Provisional IRA did its best to stop volunteers from becoming directly involved [in drugs]” and noted that on one occasion an IRA member caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use was “disowned and humiliated” in his local area.[124] According to Horgan and Taylor’s report, the IRA are also involved in several legitimate businesses including taxi firms, construction, restaurants and pubs. The IRA have also been involved in racketeering, which involves the extortion of money from legitimate businesses for “protection”.[125]

Speaking at Sinn Féin 2005 Ard Fheis, Gerry Adams stated that “‘There is no place in republicanism for anyone involved in criminality”. However, he went on to say “we refuse to criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives”.[126]

In 2013 it was reported that an Italian police investigation had revealed links between the IRA and the Mafia in a €450m money laundering scheme.[127]

Vigilantism

The IRA saw itself as the police force of nationalist areas of Northern Ireland during the Troubles instead of the RUC.[128] This was made possible by a feeling of mistrust by some members of the community against the police force and army. The feeling, that the RUC, B-Specials, UDR, British Army and other arms of the Governmental apparatus in Northern Ireland were biased against the nationalist community was not new; it predated the Troubles and took in organisations like the Ulster Defence Volunteers, a home guard body of World War II, who were also widely considered sectarian.[129] Catholics did, however, serve in the UDV,[130] Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Also, the RUC and other forces of the authorities were, in some instances, reluctant to enter or patrol certain Nationalist areas unless it was in armoured Land Rovers and in convoy. Police stations were also heavily armoured because of persistent attacks from the IRA. This gave them the appearance of being fortresses. This vacuum in policing was functional for the IRA because it stopped the local community being in contact with the police which may have posed a threat if information was passed.[131] Therefore, the community would turn to the IRA first to deal with troublemakers or those practising what came to be called “anti-social behaviour”.[132] In efforts to stamp out “anti-social behaviour” and alleged instances of drug dealing reported to or noticed by the organisation, the IRA killed or otherwise attacked suspected drug dealers and other suspected criminals. These attacks varied in severity and depended on various factors. In the first instance, the IRA may warn their intended victim, with further transgressions escalated to an attack known as a “punishment beating”. The process which the IRA went through to determine an offender’s “guilt” or “innocence” was never open to debate or scrutiny.[citation needed] The IRA also engaged in attacks that broke the bones of alleged offenders, or involved shooting through the hands, or knees for persistent offenders of activities such as joyriding or drug dealing. In certain cases, for persistent offenders the IRA would intimidate the individual into leaving the country; this was known as being “put out” of the community/country, and the clear message given to individuals served with these notices was that if they returned to the community/country they would be killed. This practice was frequently criticised by all sections of the political establishment in Northern Ireland as “summary justice“.[citation needed]

Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, speaking in the Dáil Éireann, challenged Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, over allegations of sexual abuse cover up by Sinn Féin/IRA. In the same debate Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said victims of sex abuse by IRA members were sworn to silence. Adams denied there was any Sinn Féin cover up and accused Kenny and Martin of politicising the issue.[133] Adams also apologised to abuse victims who he said were “let down” by the IRA’s failure to properly investigate their claims of abuse.[134]

Killing of alleged informers

IRA execute suspected informer | South Armagh | 20th July 1991

 

In an effort to stamp out what the IRA termed “collaboration with British forces” and “informing”, they killed a number of Catholic civilians, such as Joseph Fenton. Purges against these individuals, whom the IRA considered traitors to their own community and to the cause of nationalism, were most prevalent when the IRA found itself persistently vulnerable to infiltration. Investigations into informers and infiltration are suspected to have been dealt with by an IRA unit called the Internal Security Unit (ISU), known colloquially as the “Nutting Squad”. This unit is said to be directly attached to IRA GHQ. Where a confession was solicited, the victim was often exiled or executed with a bullet in the back of the head. The body was either buried or, later in the IRA campaign, left in a public place, often in South Armagh.

One particular example of the killing of a person deemed by the IRA to have been an informer that is the source of continuing controversy is that of Jean McConville from Belfast, who was killed by the IRA. Ed Moloney and IRA sources continue to claim she was an informer despite the Police Ombudsman recently stating that this was not the case. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) have described the killing as a “war crime“. Her family contend that she was killed as a punishment for aiding a dying British soldier in West Belfast, however this claim has been rejected in an official investigation,[135] while neither the Sutton Index or Lost Lives record the death of any British soldier near her home prior to her killing.[136] In March 2014, Ivor Bell – former IRA Chief of Staff – was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting in the murder of Jean McConville.[137] In April 2014, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned by PSNI detectives in relation to the abduction and murder of Jean McConville.[138] He was released four days later without charge.[139]

In March 2007, Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan announced that there would be an inquiry into claims of collusion between IRA members working as agents for the Special Branch and other agencies and the British security forces.[140]

Conflict with other republican paramilitaries

The IRA has also feuded with other republican paramilitary groups such as the Official IRA in the 1970s and the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation in the 1990s.

Leading Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) member Joseph O’Connor was shot dead in Ballymurphy, west Belfast on 11 October 2000. Claims have been made by O’Connor’s family and people associated with the RIRA that he was killed by the IRA as the result of a feud between the organisations,[141] but Sinn Féin denied the claims.[142] No-one has been charged with his killing.

Casualties

This is a summary. For a detailed breakdown of casualties caused by and inflicted on the IRA see Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997#Casualties

An IRA signpost with the word “Provoland” underneath in Strathroy, Omagh, County Tyrone.

The IRA was responsible for more deaths than any other organisation during the Troubles.[143] Two detailed studies of deaths in the Troubles, the CAIN project at the University of Ulster, and the book Lost Lives,[144] differ slightly on the numbers killed by the IRA. CAIN gives a minimum figure of 1,707 and a maximum of 1,823, while Lost Lives gives a figure of 1,781. Of these, about 1,100 were members or former members of the security forces (the British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary etc.), while between 510[145] and 640[27] were civilians. The civilian figure also includes civilians employed by British forces, politicians, members of the judiciary, and alleged criminals and informers. The remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitary members (including over 100 IRA members accidentally killed by their own bombs or shot for being security force agents or informers).

A little under 300 IRA members were killed in the Troubles.[146] In addition, roughly 50–60 members of Sinn Féin were killed.[147] However, many more IRA volunteers were imprisoned than killed. Journalists Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop estimate in their book The Provisional IRA that roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest (senior officers are required to surrender their post after being arrested), retiring from the armed campaign or “disillusionment”. They give 10,000 as the total number of past and present IRA members at that time.[148]

Categorisation

The IRA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000[12] and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland under the Offences Against the State Acts.[149] Harold Wilson‘s secret 1971 meeting with IRA leaders with the help of John O’Connell angered the Irish government; Garret FitzGerald wrote 30 years later that “the strength of the feelings of our democratic leaders … was not, however, publicly ventilated at the time” because Wilson was a former and possible future British prime minister.[150] Members of IRA are tried in the Republic of Ireland in the Special Criminal Court. In Northern Ireland, the IRA are referred to as terrorists by the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland,[151] and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.[152] On the island of Ireland, the largest political party to state that the IRA is not a terrorist organisation is Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is widely regarded as the political wing of the IRA, but the party insists that the two organisations are separate.[153]

Peter Mandelson, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, contrasted the post-1997 activities of the IRA with those of Al-Qaeda, describing the latter as “terrorists” and the former as “freedom fighters” (though Mandelson subsequently denied this sentiment).[154] The IRA prefer the terms freedom fighter, soldier, or volunteer.[155][156][157] The US Department of State lists them in the category ‘other selected terrorist groups also deemed of relevance in the global war on terrorism.’[153] The organisation has also been described as a “private army” by a number of commentators and politicians.[158][159][160]

The IRA described its actions throughout “The Troubles” as a military campaign waged against the British Army, the RUC, other security forces, judiciary, loyalist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, England and Europe. The IRA considers these groups to be all part of the same apparatus. As noted above, the IRA seeks to draw a direct descendancy from the original IRA and those who engaged in the Irish War of Independence. The IRA sees the previous conflict as a guerrilla war which accomplished some of its aims, with some remaining “unfinished business”.[161]

A process called “Criminalisation” was begun in the mid-1970s as part of a British strategy of “Criminalisation, Ulsterisation, and Normalisation”. The policy was outlined in a 1975 British strategy paper titled “The Way Ahead”, which was not published but was referred to by Labour’s first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees, and came to be the dominant British political theme in the conflict as it raged into the 1980s.[citation needed]

Another categorisation avoids the terms “guerrilla” or “terrorist” but does view the conflict in military terms. The phrase originated with the British military strategist Frank Kitson who was active in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. In Kitson’s view, the violence of the IRA represented an “insurrection” situation, with the enveloping atmosphere of belligerence representing a “low intensity conflict” – a conflict where the forces involved in fighting operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer combatants, at a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner.[citation needed]

Membership of the IRA remains illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but IRA prisoners convicted of offences committed before 1998 have been granted conditional early release as part of the Good Friday Agreement.[162] In the United Kingdom a person convicted of membership of a “proscribed organisation”, such as the IRA, still nominally faces imprisonment for up to 10 years.[163]

Strength and support

Numerical strength

In the early to mid-1970s, the numbers recruited by the IRA may have reached several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organised its structures from 1977 onwards. An RUC report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland.[65] This does not take into consideration the IRA units in the Republic of Ireland or those in Britain, continental Europe, and throughout the world. In 2005, the then Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell told the Dáil that the organisation had “between 1,000 and 1,500″ active members.[164]

According to the book The Provisional IRA (by Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest, “retirement” or disillusionment.[148] In later years, the IRA’s strength has been somewhat weakened by members leaving the organisation to join hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. According to former Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, these organisations have little more than 150 members each.[164]

Electoral and popular support

The popular support for the IRA’s campaign in the Troubles is hard to gauge, given that Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, did not stand in elections until the early 1980s. Most nationalists in Northern Ireland voted for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) until 2001. After the 1981 hunger strike, Sinn Féin mobilised large electoral support and won 105,000 votes, or 43% of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom general election, 1983, only 34,000 votes behind the SDLP.[165] However, by the 1992 UK General Election, the SDLP won 184,445 votes and four seats to Sinn Féin’s 78,291 votes and no seats.[166] In the 1993 Local District Council Elections in Northern Ireland, the SDLP won 136,760 votes to Sinn Féin’s 77,600 votes.[167]

Few Protestant voters voted for Sinn Féin. In 1992, many of them voted for SDLP West Belfast candidate Joe Hendron rather than a unionist candidate to make sure Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin lost his seat in the constituency.[168]

An IRA wall mural in Coalisland, County Tyrone

The IRA enjoyed some popular support in the Republic of Ireland in the early 70s. However, the movement’s appeal was hurt badly by bombings such as the killing of civilians attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen in 1987 (Remembrance Day bombing), and the death of two children when a bomb exploded in Warrington, which led to tens of thousands of people demonstrating on O’Connell Street in Dublin to call for an end to the IRA’s campaign. In the 1987 Irish General Election, they won only 1.7% of the votes cast.[169] They did not make significant electoral gains in the Republic until after the IRA ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. By the 2011 Irish general election Sinn Féin’s proportion of the popular vote had reached 9.9 percent.

Sinn Féin now has 27 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (out of 108), five Westminster MPs (out of 18 from Northern Ireland) and 14 Republic of Ireland TDs (out of 166).

Support from other countries and organisations

The IRA have had contacts with foreign governments and other illegal armed organisations.

Libya has been the biggest single supplier of arms and funds to the IRA, donating large amounts: three shipments of arms in the early 1970s and another three in the mid-1980s, the latter reputedly enough to arm two regular infantry battalions.[18]

The IRA has also received weapons and logistical support from Irish Americans in the United States. Apart from the Libyan aid, this has been the main source of overseas IRA support. American support has been weakened by the War against Terrorism, and the fallout from the events of 11 September 2001.[19][20]

In the United States in November 1982, five men were acquitted of smuggling arms to the IRA after they claimed the Central Intelligence Agency had approved the shipment, although the CIA denied this.[170] There are allegations of contact with the East German Stasi, based on the testimony of a Soviet defector to British intelligence Vasili Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin revealed that although the Soviet KGB gave some weapons to the Marxist Official IRA, it had little sympathy with the Provisionals.[171] The IRA has received some training and support from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1977, the Provisionals received a ‘sizeable’ arms shipment from the PLO, including small arms, rocket launchers and explosives, but this was intercepted at Antwerp after the Israeli intelligence alerted its European counterparts.[172] According to Dr Mir Ali Montazam, one-time first secretary at the Iranian embassy, Iran played a key part in funding the IRA during the 1980s. Iranian officials deposited £4 million into a secret Jersey bank account, funded by the sale of artwork from the Iranian Embassy in London. Hadi Ghaffari, the “machinegun mullah”, was sent to Belfast and organised the distribution of the money via sympathetic Irish businessmen.[173]

Falls Road in 1981

It has been alleged that the IRA had a co-operative relationship with Basque militant group ETA since the early 1970s. In 1973 it was accused of providing explosives for the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in Madrid.[174] In the 1970s, ETA also exchanged a quantity of handguns for training in explosives with the IRA.[175] In addition, the leaders of the political wings of the respective Irish republican and Basque separatist movements have exchanged visits on several occasions to express solidarity with each other’s cause.[176] Prominent former IRA prisoners such as Brendan McFarlane and Brendan Hughes have campaigned for the release of ETA prisoners.[177][178] In the mid-1990s after the IRA ceasefire, Basque media outlets followed the process carefully, sending a team to follow the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday as they campaigned for apology.[citation needed]

IRA propaganda poster

In May 1996, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s internal security service, publicly accused Estonia of arms smuggling, and claimed that the IRA had contacted representatives of Estonia’s volunteer defence force, Kaitseliit, and some non-government groups to buy weapons.[179][180] In 2001, three Irish men, who later became known as the Colombia Three, were arrested after allegedly training Colombian guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in bomb making and urban warfare techniques. The US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in its report of 24 April 2002 concluded “Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for these specific terror tactics now being employed by the FARC, other than IRA training”.[181]

In December 2013 the report of the Smithwick Tribunal concluded that “on the balance of probability” collusion took place between the IRA and members of the Garda Síochána in the 1989 killing of two RUC officers; however, the report could not conclusively prove this.[182]

Aftermath of Manchester bombing

Good Friday Agreement

Main article: Good Friday Agreement

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.

End of the armed campaign

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

In a statement read by Séanna Breathnach, the organisation stated that it had instructed its members to dump all weapons and not to engage in “any other activities whatsoever” apart from assisting “the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”. Furthermore, the organisation authorised its representatives to engage immediately with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) to verifiably put its arms beyond use “in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible”.[30]

This is not the first time that organisations styling themselves IRA have issued orders to dump arms.[183] After its defeat in the Irish Civil War in 1924 and at the end of its unsuccessful Border Campaign in 1962, the IRA Army Council issued similar orders. However, this is the first time in Irish republicanism that any organisation has voluntarily decided to dispose of its arms.[184] Some authors, like Patrick McCarthy, Peter Taylor and Brendan O’Brien concluded that, unlike previous IRA campaigns, the provisionals were not defeated.[185][186][187]

On 25 September 2005, international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the IRA, a long-sought goal of Northern Ireland’s peace process. The office of IICD chairman John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general who oversaw the weapons’ decommissioning at secret locations, released details regarding the scrapping of many tons of IRA weaponry at a news conference in Belfast on 26 September. He said the arms had been “put beyond use” and that they were “satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA’s arsenal.”

The IRA permitted two independent witnesses, including a Methodist minister, Rev. Harold Good, and Father Alec Reid, a Roman Catholic priest close to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, to view the secret disarmament work.[188] Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), complained that since the witnesses were appointed by the IRA themselves, rather than being appointed by the British or Irish governments, they therefore could not be said to be unbiased witnesses to the decommissioning. Nationalists and Catholics viewed his comments as reflecting his refusal to support devolution in Northern Ireland with Catholics in power.[189]

In 2011 Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “The war is over. The IRA is gone. The IRA embraced, facilitated and supported the peace process. When a democratic and peaceful alternative to armed struggle was created the IRA left the stage.”[190] In 2014 Adams said: “The IRA is gone. It is finished”.[191]

Continuing activities of IRA members

The 10th report published in April 2006 from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), an organisation monitoring activity by paramilitary groups on behalf of the British and Irish governments, prefaced its remarks about IRA activity by commenting that the IRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path and that in the last three months this process has involved the further dismantling of the IRA as a military structure.

The report commented that there was no paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the leadership; there is a substantial erosion in the IRA’s capacity to return to a military campaign; and, that the IRA had no intentions of returning to violence.[192] However the IMC report also noted that following decommissioning, the IRA still retained a considerable amount of weaponry beyond what was needed for self-defence.[193]

The IMC has come in for criticism (mainly by republicans) as having been set up outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement as a sop to Unionism. Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy stated that the IMC was established outside and in breach of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that it is politically biased, and had an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.[194]

On 4 October 2006, the IMC ruled that the IRA were no longer a threat.[195]

In late 2008, the The Sunday Times quoted a senior Garda intelligence officer as saying that “the IRA had recruited in recent years, still held arms despite apparently decommissioning the lot, and was being maintained in ‘shadow form.’” The Gardaí also said that the IRA was still capable of carrying out attacks.[193][196] A senior member of the PSNI, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, said that it was unlikely that the IRA would disband in the foreseeable future.[197]

At the end of March 2010, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said that the IRA were still active and that they had been responsible for a number of incidents in his constituency including a punishment shooting and an armed robbery during which a shot was fired.[198]

In August 2010, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Republican Network for Unity and the UPRG, claimed that the IRA were responsible for a shooting incident in the Gobnascale area of Derry. It is claimed that up to 20 masked men, some armed with handguns, attacked a group of teenagers who were engaging in anti-social behaviour at an interface area. A number of the teenagers were attacked and shots were fired into the air. The men are then reported to have removed their masks when the PSNI arrived and were subsequently identified as members of the Republican Movement. Sinn Féin denied the IRA were involved.[199][200][201]

“P. O’Neill”

The IRA traditionally uses a well-known signature in its public statements, which are all issued under the pseudonym of “P. O’Neill” of the “Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin”.[202] According to Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, it was Seán Mac Stiofáin, as chief of staff of the IRA, who invented the name. However, under his usage, the name was written and pronounced according to Irish orthography and pronunciation as “P. Ó Néill”. According to Danny Morrison, the pseudonym “S. O’Neill” was used during the 1940s.[202]

Informers

Throughout the Troubles, some members of the IRA passed information to the security forces. Members of the IRA suspected of being informants were usually executed after an IRA court-martial. In the 1980s, many more IRA members were imprisoned on the testimony of former IRA members known as “supergrasses” such as Raymond Gilmour. A Belfast newspaper has claimed that secret documents show that half of the IRA’s top men were also British informers.[203]

In recent years, there have been some high profile allegations of senior IRA figures having been British 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 IRA, code-named Stakeknife, who is thought to have been head of the IRA’s internal security force, charged with rooting out and executing informers. Scappaticci denies that this is the case and, in 2003, failed in a legal bid to force the then NIO Minister, Jane Kennedy, to state he was not an informer.[204] She has refused to do so, and since then Scappaticci has not launched any libel actions against the media making the allegations.

On 16 December 2005, senior Sinn Féin member Denis Donaldson appeared before TV cameras in Dublin and confessed to being a British spy for twenty years.[205] He was expelled from Sinn Féin and was said to have been debriefed by the party.[206] Donaldson was a former IRA volunteer and subsequently highly placed Sinn Féin party member. Donaldson had been entrusted by Gerry Adams with the running of Sinn Féin’s operations in the US in the early 1990s.[207] On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead at his retreat near Glenties in County Donegal.[208] When asked whether he felt Donaldson’s role as an informer in Sinn Féin was significant, the IRA double agent using the pseudonym “Kevin Fulton” described Donaldson’s role as a spy within Sinn Féin as “the tip of the iceberg”.[209] The Real IRA claimed responsibility for his assassination on 12 April 2009.[210]

On 8 February 2008, Roy McShane was taken into police protection after being unmasked as an informant. McShane, a former IRA member, had been Gerry Adams’ personal driver for many years. Adams said he was “too philosophical” to feel betrayed.[211]

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