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Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA)
the Provos
Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD)

Northern Ireland came into existence with the British Government of Ireland Act (1920) which divided Ireland into two areas: the Irish Free State, made up of the 26 southern counties, and Northern Ireland - comprising of the counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Roman Catholics, who made up around one-third of the population of Northern Ireland, were largely opposed to the partition.

On 19 July 1997, the IRA declared a cease-fire, effective July 20. At the end of August, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced her finding that the cease-fire was being observed, allowing Sinn Fein, the political party closely identified with the IRA, entry into negotiations on Northern Ireland's political future. The July 20 cease-fire ended a 17-month terrorism campaign and led to the opening of inclusive political talks in September. Following the cease-fire there was a marked decrease--although not a total cessation--of sectarian violence. Police believe that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland were responsible for 22 deaths, 251 shootings, and 78 bombings during 1997. Both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continued to engage in vigilante "punishment" attacks, although there was a decrease in the number of such incidents even before the July cease-fire. Despite the lowering of the overall unemployment rate in Northern Ireland in December 1997 to 7.8 per cent, the unemployment rate for Catholic men in Northern Ireland remained twice that for Protestant men. Sinn Féin is the oldest political party in Ireland, named from the Irish Gaelic expression for ``We Ourselves''. Since being founded in 1905 it has worked for the right of Irish people as a whole to attain national self-determination, and has elected representatives in every major Irish town and city.


Formed in 1969 as the clandestine armed wing of the political movement Sinn Fein, the IRA is devoted both to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and to unifying Ireland. The IRA conducted attacks until its cease-fire in 1997 and agreed to disarm as a part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which established the basis for peace in Northern Ireland. Dissension within the IRA over support for the Northern Ireland peace process resulted in the formation of two more radical splinter groups: Continuity IRA (CIRA), and the Real IRA (RIRA) in mid to late 1990s. The IRA, sometimes referred to as the PIRA to distinguish it from RIRA and CIRA, is organized into small, tightly-knit cells under the leadership of the Army Council.


Traditional IRA activities have included bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, punishment beatings, extortion, smuggling, and robberies. Before the cease-fire in 1997, the group had conducted bombing campaigns on various targets in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, including senior British Government officials, civilians, police, and British military targets. The group’s refusal in late 2004 to allow photographic documentation of its decommissioning process was an obstacle to progress in implementing the Belfast Agreement and stalled talks. The group previously had disposed of light, medium, and heavy weapons, ammunition, and explosives in three rounds of decommissioning. However, the IRA is believed to retain the ability to conduct paramilitary operations. The group’s extensive criminal activities reportedly provide the IRA and the political party Sinn Fein with millions of dollars each year; the IRA was implicated in two significant robberies in 2004, one involving almost $50 million.


Several hundred members, plus several thousand sympathizers—despite the defection of some members to RIRA and CIRA.

Local/Area of Operation

Northern Ireland, Irish Republic, Great Britain, Europe.

External Aid

In the past, has received aid from a variety of groups and countries and considerable training and arms from Libya and the PLO. Is suspected of receiving funds, arms, and other terrorist-related materiel from sympathizers in the United States. Similarities in operations suggest links to ETA and the FARC. In August 2002, three suspected IRA members were arrested in Colombia on charges of assisting the FARC to improve its explosives capabilities.

Sources and Resources

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Created by John Pike
Maintained by Steven Aftergood
Updated July 21, 2005