Armed Hostilities

Terrorism: Irish Republican Army History and Ideologies

Table of Contents
  1. Abstract
  2. Overview of the IRA before 1969
  3. History and ideologies of the official IRA
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


According to the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010), the official or Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed after conflicts occurred between the members of the larger IRA. The initial IRA group was known for its efforts to fight the reign of the British rule in Ireland. In the twentieth century, Ireland expressed its interest to break away from the British supremacy through one of the largest demonstrations in Europe. As a result, the British government agreed to hold peace talks with Ireland in the 1920’s to quell the protests. Britain agreed to the formation of a semi-autonomous state, a decision that was revoked by Northern Ireland.

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Derkins (2002) indicates that the Britons later agreed to approve the Government of Ireland Act in 1922. The act led to the formation of Northern Ireland (Protestant majority) and Ireland (Catholic majority). Derkins (2002) also reports that the Protestants and the Catholic majorities disapproved this agreement and vowed to guarantee independence in Ireland. This led to the formation of the former Irish Republican Army, which majorly comprised of armed Catholic militants.

This organization played a significant role in the War of Independence between 1919 and 1921, forcing Britain to agree to the Formation of the Republic of Ireland (Council on Foreign Affairs, 2010). However, the British retained their supremacy in Northern Ireland, and IRA continued with the protests until it collapsed in 1969. The aim of the current essay is to assess the IRA as a notorious terrorist organization in Ireland. The essay majorly focuses on the history and the ideologies of the IRA from 1969.

Overview of the IRA before 1969

In reference to Engeland and Rudolph (2008), the IRA was officially formed in 1922, and it was known as the longest-operating (over 80 years) terrorist group in Western Europe. As aforementioned, the group was initially formed in response to the suppression subjected to Ireland by Britain. An analysis by the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010) reports that Great Britain had ruled the Irish people since the 17th century.

However, the rise of Irish separatists between 1920 and 1921 led to the violent War of Independence between Ireland and Britain. This was the most violent war that the regions had experienced and it lasted for two years. Shanahan (2009) claims that the war ended when the Sinn Fein, a major political party in Ireland agreed to negotiate with the Britons. As a result, the Anglo-Irish treaty was formed and it granted independence for most of the counties in Ireland. Specifically, Britain was to retain six counties in the north while 26 counties in the south were declared independent. The counties under the British rule were later referred to as Northern Ireland.

According to Derkins (2002), majority of the citizens in the north were opposed to the treaty, leading to a civil war between the separatists and the loyalists. Although the loyalists won the war, the separatists did not relent and continued to oppose British’s control of Northern Ireland. In an effort to strengthen their activities, the separatists formed the Irish Republican Army whose main goal at the time was to fight for the independence of Northern Ireland. The original IRA was accused of the inability to protect the Irish people in Northern Ireland from protestant attacks (Engeland & Rudolph, 2008). The group seemed more interested in political issues over the freedom of Northern Ireland. This led to conflicts among the members and stimulated minimal support from the citizens. Following these disputes, the separatists groups forming the IRA split, leading to the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1969.

An analysis of IRA by the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010) reveals that the main ideology of the terrorist group was to unite all the counties in Ireland through violence. Later, the members of the IRA agreed to engage in a peaceful political process to fight for Northern Ireland’s independence. Despite this resolution, some of the members continued launch terror attacks against the Britons. Engeland and Rudolph (2008) note that the Violent IRA group was associated with assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings in Great Britain and Ireland, with its primary targets being the British military and the police.

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However, the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010) indicates that the group also assassinated Irish Protestants. Derkins (2002) reports that tensions arose in Northern Ireland due to the discrimination against the Catholic minority. These tensions were referred to as ‘The troubles’ and they led to the division of the Irish Republican Army. The split in 1969 led to the formation of the socialist IRA that believed in peace and the Provisionals who believed that violence was the only way to promote sovereignty in Ireland. Even though the two groups continued to refer to themselves as the IRA, the provisional or official IRA became more recognized and was known as one of the most violent terrorist organizations in Europe.

History and ideologies of the official IRA

The ideologies of the IRA were based on its preference for the Republican Party doctrines (Council on Foreign Affairs, 2010). The members believed in the promotion of political and cultural nationalism. In addition, majority of its members were Catholic and the religion was the most segregated. The IRA believed that the use of violence was the only way to enhance peace in Ireland. Generally, the members took pride in the traditional ideologies of nationalism and believed that the British had no right to separate their people. Derkins (2002) defines ‘Irish nationalism’ as a sense of pride based on their unique culture and language. Hence, there was need for Ireland to be independent to promote nationalism.

Yan (2009) acknowledges that the Provisional IRA continued to recruit and radicalize young Irish citizens. Another objective of the IRA during the time was to protect the Catholic neighborhoods from oppression by the British. In 1970, the IRA started its official demonstrations for the Independence of Northern Ireland.

According to the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010), most of the young radicals on the ground became extreme Marxists motivated by violence. As a result, the period was characterized by instability and protests. In a bid to quell the protests, 3,000 British soldiers were deployed in the Lower Falls region to contain the IRA. Shanahan (2009) indicates that the attack by the British army led to the loss of weaponry owned by the IRA and caused conflicts between the members of the terrorist group.

The conflicts arose due to some members claiming lack of support from the Provisionals during the attack. During the same year, the two groups agreed to meet and decide on a new and more effective strategy concerning their coordination and the use of violence. The members agreed to combine both defensive and retaliation tactics when dealing with the British military. Shanahan (2009) acknowledges the effectiveness of these strategies as the IRA grew drastically in the following years and continued its lethal attacks against the British in Northern Ireland killing both civilians and the military. Moreover, the organization was successful in stimulating Catholic hostility toward the British army.

Mumford (2011) indicates that the IRA attacks began to target the military in 1971. In addition, the ranks of the provisional IRA began to swell and the leadership resolved to purchase more weaponry to deal with the increasing attacks from the British army. In reference to the Council on Foreign Affairs (2010), the 1970’s marked a time that the terrorist organization operated with an astounding degree of operational inventiveness.

The group continuously launched new and unanticipated terrorist attacks and it undoubtedly became one of the most impenetrable terrorist societies. Mumford (2011) also notes that the IRA continued to recruit bomb experts and individuals with high-level innovation and technical skills who played a role in the planning and delivery of terrorist attacks in the region. In 1972, the British government opted to call for negotiations to reduce the widespread IRA violence (Derkins, 2002).

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Prior to this time, the Britons had directed the main political parties to discuss the fate of Northern Ireland. However, these mainstream parties failed to reach an amicable solution forcing the British to introduce direct rule in the region. This angered the IRA and it intensified its attacks on the British army and the citizens. According to Mumford (2011), opposition leader, Harold Wilson held the first negotiations with the IRA in March 1972. Although the talks were not fruitful, they marked the beginning of the peace process between the IRA and the British government. These talks continued until the ceasefire agreement in May the same year.

Despite the agreement to cease the use of armed violence, the IRA continued to intensify its terror attacks (Cronin, Aden, Frost, & Jones, 2004). The terrorist organization continued to control most of the nationalist regions in Ireland and restricted the movements of the British army through barricades. Similarly, the British retaliated by establishing barriers around Belfast, which was the main area of IRA’s operations.

This was a setback for the IRA as the British military managed to capture some of its leaders in 1973. After the Britons introduced these measures, the number of attacks and killings in the regions declined drastically in the next year. A number of radical elements within the IRA arose under the command of Seamus Costello in 1974 due to the weakened leadership. However, Costello and other influential radicals were killed in 1975, which further weakened the IRA. Although Mumford (2011) notes that the IRA was involved in sporadic attacks in the following years, the members were more focused on promoting its participation in left-wing politics.

In reference to Cronin et al. (2004), there were allegations throughout the 1980’s that the IRA was still operational. Ranstorp and Brun (2013) also note that the number of IRA members reduced greatly after 1975. This followed the introduction of the “active service units” within the IRA. These units reduced the number of members from about 4,000 in the early 1970’s to about 300 in the 1980’s. Yan (2009) notes that the 1981 hunger strikes further compromised the active service units system as their anonymity was revealed by the British military.

The Council on Foreign Affairs (2010) reports that the IRA continued its sporadic attacks through the 1990’s and the 2000’s. In the mid 1990’s, further negotiations between the British Prime Minister and IRA were held to cease the terrorist activities in Ireland.

As a result, a ceasefire deal was announced in 1997 and the two groups signed a peace treaty. In 2001, the organization announced the plans to decommission its weapons to prove the end of violence and promotion of peaceful political strategies. Ranstorp and Brun (2013) indicate that the decommissioning process was completed by 2005 and the weaponry destroyed. The British and Irish governments continued to report that the group’s terrorist activities had stopped. However, there continued to be speculations on the presence of radical groups within the IRA that were responsible for various attacks in the late 2000’s.


The Irish Republican Army was formed in the early 1900’s in response to the suppressive rule applied by the British in Ireland. Conflicts arose between the members in 1969, which led to the establishment of the Provisional IRA. Moreover, the original IRA group had failed to protect the Catholic minorities in the north from aggression by the British army and the Protestants (Council on Foreign Affairs, 2010).The Provisional IRA was based on republican doctrines and had two main ideologies. First, to liberate Northern Ireland from the British rule through violence. Second, to enhance political and cultural nationalism in the region.

The group’s activities intensified in the 1970’s and it was responsible for most of the terrorist attacks in the region. Additionally, it continued to recruit young radical and Marxists youths who were innovative and had the technical skills to develop and launch bomb attacks. As a result, it was known as the most dangerous terrorist groups in Western Europe. Although the late 1970’s ceasefire agreement neutralized the group, terrorist attacks continued to be reported throughout the region. Such attacks were sporadic and continued through the 1990’s to the early 2000’s. The weapon decommission process between 2001 and 2005 by the IRA was applauded by both the British and Irish governments. However, there continued to be speculations on the existence of the terrorist group indicating that it was involved in terrorist activities in the late 2000’s.

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Council on Foreign Affairs. (2010). Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) (aka, PIRA, “the provos,” Óglaigh na hÉireann) (UK separatists). Web.

Cronin, A. K., Aden, H., Frost, A., & Jones, B. (2004). Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Web.

Derkins, S. (2002). The Irish Republican Army. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. Web.

Engeland, A., & Rudolph, R. M. (2008). From Terrorism to politics. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. Web.

Mumford, A. (2011). Covert peacemaking: Clandestine negotiations and backchannels with the Provisional IRA during the early ‘Troubles’, 1972–76. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 39(4), 633–648. Web.

Ranstorp, M., & Brun, H. (2013). Terrorism learning and innovation: Lessons from PIRA in Northern Ireland. Sweden: Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies and Swedish National Defence College. Web.

Shanahan, T. (2009). The provisional Irish Republican Army and the morality of terrorism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Web.

Yan, L. (2009). The Impacts of British Policies and the IRA’s Ideology on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Review of European Studies, 1(1), 9-15. Web.

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