Terrorism Profiles

Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Alternative Names:

IRA, Official IRA, the Provos, Oglaigh na hEirann, Continuity IRA, Real IRA, Irish National Liberation Army, Irish People’s Liberation Organization, IPLO, Irish Republican Liberation Army

Location:

Northern Ireland, Irish Republic, Great Britain, Western Europe

Leadership:

The General Army Convention (GAC) is the supreme authority of the IRA and meets bi-annually. When the GAC is not in session, the Army Council becomes the governing authority of the IRA.

The GAC selects a 12-member Army Executive, which meets semi-annually. It is also the role of the Army Executive to select the members of the Army Council.

The day-to-day operations of the IRA are conducted by a seven-person Army Council, which includes the chief of staff, the adjutant general, and the quartermaster general.

Operational decisions are made by a central command cadre of approximately 40 middle-ranking members. The IRA is composed of detached cells to protect against infiltration.

The IRA is believed to have kept its structure intact since 1994.

Membership:

The IRA is thought to consist of up to 400 members and several thousand auxiliary supporters and sympathizers who could be called upon in emergency circumstances. The vast majority are based in Northern Ireland, however, there are operational cells located in other parts of the UK.

Funding Sources:

The IRA’s criminal activities are thought to generate millions of dollars of funding each year. The group has also received funding and weapons from Libya, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and sympathizers in the United States.

Origins:

The IRA refers to several paramilitary factions dedicated to Irish republicanism and independence.

The original IRA emerged in 1917 and consisted of Irish volunteers who refused to join the British Army during World War I. It was declared the army of the Irish Republic by the Assembly of Ireland in 1919. The IRA has since split numerous times into various factions.

The first split occurred in 1921 after the Anglo-Irish Treaty, with supporters of the Treaty forming the National Army of the Irish Free State of the British Commonwealth on one hand, and the Irish Republican Army of the anti-treaty forces on the other.

The anti-treaty IRA subsequently split in 1969 into the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA, with the Official IRA assuming a primarily Marxist orientation and the Provisional IRA developing a moderate left-wing political agenda. In 2011, former members of the Provisional IRA resumed hostilities under the name of the IRA.

The Continuity IRA broke from the Provisional IRA in 1986, with the Real IRA following in 1997.

Major Attacks:

The IRA has carried out hundreds of firearm and low-intensity bomb attacks.

February 1996: The IRA carried out a major bomb attack at Canary Wharf in London, which ended a 17-month ceasefire and killed two people.

Ideological Roots:

The IRA traces its ideology to Irish republicanism and the rejection of the British monarchy.

Objectives:

The IRA is a paramilitary organization that seeks to consolidate an independent Irish republic through political violence, the end of British rule in Northern Ireland, and the reunification of Ireland.

Specifically, the IRA sought to use armed force to undermine British rule in Ireland and achieve the strategic objective of an independent republic with the political assistance of Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party.

Tactics:

Bombings, kidnapping, raids, assassination, extortion, smuggling, and robbery.

The IRA primarily targets senior government officials, civilians, police, and British military targets.

Updated on January 7, 2016.

References


  1. Sean Boyne. “Uncovering the Irish Republican Army.” Jane’s Intelligence Review. Last modified August, 1996. Accessed December 18, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ira/inside/org.html
  2. “Irish Republican Army.” Federation of American Scientists. Last modified July, 2005. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://fas.org/irp/world/para/ira.htm
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