30 Years of Conflict
• ‘The Troubles’ is the collective name for the ethno-political and religious
conflict that plagued Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998, although sporadic
violence continues to this day.
• The conflict was primarily political, but had sectarian dimensions as well. Key
issues include the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the
relationship between its two communities.
• Unionists are primarily protestant, and descend from Scottish immigrants that
were planted in Northern Ireland during King I of England’s reign in the late
16th century. They want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United
Kingdom. They tend to be more right-wing. They are the slight majority, with
Northern Ireland being 48% Protestant as of the 2001 Census.
• Republicans, (more specifically Irish Republicans), are primarily Catholic and
have deeper ancestral ties on the island of Ireland. They want Northern
Ireland to declare independence from the United Kingdom and unite with the
southern Republic of Ireland. They tend to be more left-leaning, some with
socialist inclinations. They are the slight minority, with Northern Ireland being
45% Catholic as of the 2001 Census.
• The Troubles would lead approxiately 3600 people dead and 50,000 injured
over the 30 year period, in a population of less than 2 million people.
• Irish Republicanism has existed in Ireland in some
way, shape or form since the early 1600s.
• In Easter Week of 1916, the armed Irish
Republican Brotherhood seized key locations in
Dublin and proclaimed the island of Ireland
independent of the United Kingdom.
• The Rebellion was put down almost immediately
by the British, but it would go on to inspire a
century of political turbulence in modern Ireland.
• The Irish War of Independence was fought from 1919
to 1921 and led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
• In December of 1918, Irish Republican political party
Sinn Fein (‘we ourselves’ in gaelic) won a landslide
victory in Ireland, and in January of 1919 they formed a
breakaway government and declared the entire island
of Ireland, once again, independent from Britain.
• The British government was not as successful putting
down the rebellions this time, as the military wing of
Sinn Fein, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) waged a
bloody guerrilla war of attrition against the British
Army until the UK was forced to give in by 1921, and
led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Anglo-Irish Treaty (signed 6 December
Provided for establishment of Irish Free State,
completely independent from the United Kingdom
politically. It also provided the six counties of
Northern Ireland the option to opt out of the
treaty, which, at the time, was a massive 2/3
majority Protestant and Unionist, and did so,
choosing to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
This has proved to be a very controversial treaty in
Northern Ireland up until this very day.
Irish Civil War
The Anglo-Irish Treaty
was so controversial that
it led to a 10-month civil
war in Ireland
it’s signing. The newly
established Irish National
Army, consisting of many
former IRA guerrillas,
fought the more hardline
anti-treaty IRA, who felt
the Anglo-Irish Treaty
betrayed the ideals of
the Easter Rising. The
Irish National Army, who
was supported by the
British, easily crushed
the anti-treaty IRA.
• A legacy of the Irish Civil War was
the survival of a marginalized
remnant of the IRA. Illegal in both
Northern Ireland and the Irish Free
State, and ideologically committed
to overthrowing them both, the IRA
from 1922 to 1966 existed primarily
as a secret society, with the
exception of the failed Northern
Campaign of 1942 and the failed
Border Campaign between 1956 and
1962, during both of which the IRA
assassinated several police officers
around the Northern Irish border
before declaring each respective
campaign a failure.
The Civil Rights Movement
• The NICRA (Northern Irish Civil Rights
Association) was formed in 1966 to protest
discrimination against Irish Catholics in Northern
Ireland. Drew significant parallels with the
African-American Civil Rights movement in the
United States during that time.
• The Civil Rights Movement was peaceful and
sought to end discrimination against Irish
Catholics and Irish nationalists by the Protestant
and Unionist local self-government of Northern
Objectives of the Civil Rights
• End job discrimination (Catholics/nationalists unlikely to be given certain
jobs.. especially government jobs)
• Public housing to be allocated based on need rather than
religious/political views (unionist-controlled local councils allocated
housing to Protestant unionists ahead of Catholic nationalists)
• “One Man One Vote” Policy – in Northern Ireland only householders could
vote in local elections, whereas in the rest of the UK all adults could vote.
• An end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, giving nationalists less
electoral power than unionists, even in areas where nationalists were the
• Reform of the RUC or Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Irish police
force, which was almost 100% Protestant, and disbandment of the B-
Specials special police force, also exclusively protestant. Both of which
were heavily accused of police brutality and sectarianism.
• Repeal of the Special Powers Act– which allowed police to search without
a warrant, arrest and imprison people without charge/trial, ban any
assemblies or parades, and ban any publications. The Act was used almost
exclusively against Catholics.
• The Civil Rights movement was violently repressed by police and met with
fierce political resistance from the unionist government.
The 1969 Northern Ireland Riots –The
Culmination of Tension
• The Tensions between Catholics and Protestants culminated in August of
• “The Battle of The Bogside” – Loyalists were allowed to march through the
Catholic neighborhood of Derry in a provocative parade. This led to
Catholic resistance, who began throwing stones and bricks at the parade.
The RUC was then deployed to put down Catholic rioters, and laid siege to
the Catholic community of Bogside, releasing over 1100 canisters of tear
gas in the Bogside from August 12 to 14. Catholics in turn set up
barricades and were ultimately successful in repelling the police from their
communities. The Bogside region of Derry would go on to exist as a ‘no go
area’ for both Northern Irish and British security forces, and existed as an
autonomous independent nationalist district from 1969 to 1972.
• The Battle of the Bogside, and the ensuing violence that raged from
August 12-17 across Northern Ireland, caused the displacement of
approximately 1,820 families and the destruction of 150+ Catholic homes.
• It also led to the deployment of the British military to Ulster in what was
intended to be a short, several weeklong peacekeeping engagement. It
would turn out to be a 30 year deployment.
• No-Go Areas existed from 1969 to 1972 in Belfast and Derry
in Catholic nationalist neighborhoods in which barricades
and militant residents prevented the police forces or British
Army from entering.
• The Barricades were demolished and control “officially”
restored in the British Operation Motorman in 1972, in
which the British Army used tanks to destroy the barricades
and reestablish control. However, the no-go status was
generally maintained and police and security forces still
rarely entered certain Irish Catholic neighborhoods
throughout the duration of the Troubles except in very
hostile circumstances, such as in the case of an arrest or
• Day-to-day policing of these areas was generally controlled
by terrorist groups.
The IRA Split
• The IRA that had existed largely in silence for the past 50 years began to
rearm and militarize itself once again by 1969 in order to protect Catholic
nationalist communities in Northern Ireland in wake of the police brutality
and sectarian violence that they had began to increasingly experience.
• In the 1960s the IRA had come under the significant influence of Marxist
and Socialist thinkers. This led the IRA to split in 1969 into the Official IRA
and the Provisional IRA – the provisionals named for their “Provisional
• The Official IRA was highly socialist/Marxist and prescribed to the idea
that class differences were causing the strife in Northern Ireland, whilst
the Provisional IRA was less interested in socialism and more concerned
simply with British presence in Northern Ireland, considering it to be the
root of all the problems.
• The Official IRA would eventually fade out by 1972, while the Provisional
IRA would go on to become the most feared terrorist organization in 20th
Century Europe and launch a 30-year campaign against the British
presence in Northern Ireland.
• The UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) was formed in 1964 as a
continuation of the Ulster Volunteers that existed from 1912-1914
in Northern Ireland, who intended to violently resist any attempts
by the British government to release Ulster from the Union.
• It was reformed in ’64 by former British soldier Gusty Spence after
he and his men burned to the ground a Catholic-owned pub on the
loyalist Shankhill Road.
• The Ulster unionists feared that, with the ongoing civil rights
movement, a potential return of the IRA in Northern Ireland could
be possible. The UVF and other loyalist paramilitary groups such as
the UDA and UFF were thus created and seen as vigilantes and
defenders of Protestant communities. However, most of their
targets throughout the 30-year Troubles were simply innocent
UVF Statement, 21 May 1964
• “From this day, we declare war against the Irish
Republican Army and its splinter groups. Known
IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without
hesitation. Less extreme measures will be taken
against anyone sheltering or helping them, but if
they persist in giving them aid, then more
extreme methods will be adopted... we solemnly
warn the authorities to make no more speeches
of appeasement. We are heavily armed
Protestants dedicated to this cause.”
• Suffered 293 Casualties
• Over 10,000 members imprisoned on various
charges throughout the conflict
• Killed 656 members of the British Armed Forces
• Killed 272 Members of the Royal Ulster
Constabulary (RUC) Police Force
• Killed 44 members of loyalist/protestant terror
• Killed between 620-650 civilians
• Killed over 1500 people
• IRA recruitment in Catholic neighborhoods was similar to the
phenomenon of gang membership in the inner-city United States.
Young Catholics typically joined to create a sense of belonging, to
seem “hard” or look “cool,” to feel protected from the brutality of
the RUC during the Troubles, or to help defend their communities.
IRA members were not asked to join, but volunteered.
• IRA ‘funds-raising’ activities included collecting protection money
from Catholic businesses (a “revolutionary tax”), robbing banks,
kidnapping citizens for ransom, and cigarette and gasoline
smuggling across the Irish border (manipulating the differing tax
prices on both sides of the border and selling fuel and cigarettes
illicitly). Although the Provisional IRA has officially disbanded and
no longer engages in terrorism, there is substantial evidence that
extortion rackets in poor Catholic neighborhoods and contraband
smuggling operations along the border still exist in Northern
Ireland, and are run by former IRA men solely for profiteering
• The Provisional IRA obtained a significant amount of
arms from both Irish-American supporters in the
northeastern United States (including members of
notorious gangster Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob in 1970s-
80s Boston) and from the Libyan government under
• Gadaffi took over in Libya in 1969 and initially armed
the IRA seeing them as comrades-in-arms fighting
British imperialism. Connections re-emerged in 1986
after the Thatcher Administration’s support of the US
bombings of Libya that killed Gadaffi’s adopted
• When the IRA disarmed as part of the Good Friday
Agreement in 1998 (more on that later) they released the
following to the British Armed Forces:
• 1,000 Rifles (AK-47s, AR-15s, etc).
• 3 Tons of Semtex (a general-purpose plastic explosive)
• 20-30 Heavy Machine Guns
• 7 Surface-to-Air Missiles
• 7 Flamethrowers
• 1,200 Detonators
• 20 RPG’s
• 100 Handguns
• 100+ Hand Grenades
Mortars and IEDs
• The PIRA was incredibly proficient at bomb-making, and made
extensive use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) during their 30
• IEDs were typically constructed with chemical mixes of fertilizer,
gasoline, and other home-made components. Libyan Semtex was
also used in several heavy-duty bombs. Nails and gunpowder were
typically implemented in pipe bombs, made out of metal pipes.
Most IEDs had built in countermeasures, such as the mercury tilt
switch, which would cause the bomb to explode if moved at all
should a British EOD officer attempt to dismantle it.
• The PIRA developed the “Barrack Buster” mortar in the late ‘70s, or
a homemade mortar made up of common household materials that
was used to attack several Army bases from afar, and even Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher’s house… 10 Downing Street, in a 1991
attack that destroyed the Prime Minister’s rear garden (the mortar
was fired out the back of a nearby van).
• The RUC was not trusted in Catholic neighborhoods throughout the
Troubles, and did not regularly patrol or even enter them in urban
areas of Northern Ireland. Thus, when there was a community drug
dealer, car thief, burglar, rapist, or pedophile, the IRA took it upon
themselves to issue brutal street justice to those involved.
• Occasionally offering warnings for lesser offences such as petty
thievery or drug dealing, if the IRA had enough of a certain member
of the community they perceived as anti-social, he or she was
usually jumped, brutally beaten, and/or ‘kneecapped’ – one of the
IRA’s most notorious methods – in which the victim was pinned
down and shot through the kneecaps with a firearm, or occasionally
had their kneecaps drilled through with power-drills. Other
methods included releasing starving Rottweiler’s on the offender,
dropping cinderblocks on the offender’s hands, or even tarring and
feathering the offender. The IRA’s process in determining an
individual’s guilt was never open to scrutiny.
• If the offender persisted after an IRA punishment, he was then
given a notice by the IRA to leave the country as soon as possible…
referred to as being “put out” of the community. If the offender still
did not leave he was murdered.
Policy on Informants
• In an effort to stamp out collusion with the British forces and informants
on the IRA, the IRA was responsible for torturing and killing several
accused Catholic civilians throughout the conflict.
• Investigations into collusion, infiltration and informants were carried out
by the Internal Security Unit of the IRA, colloquially known as the “Nutting
• The ISU would carry out debriefings of IRA prisoners upon their release
from British detention so as to discover whether or not they had ‘cracked’
and released information to British interrogators.
• Typical ISU torture techniques on those accused of informing included
drowning, genital/nipple mutilation, electrocution with livewires, pouring
kerosene on the accused’s legs before setting fire to them, and branding
with hot irons. Informants were always killed afterwards with a bullet
through the back of the head.
• Of the 18 “Disappeared” accused informants that were abducted and
executed by the IRA during the Troubles, only 10 bodies have been found.
• Martin McGartland was an IRA informant who was estimated to have
saved 50 lives in the conflict before he was discovered and abducted by
the ISU. He escaped and lives today in seclusion. The film “50 Dead Men
Walking” is based on his exploits, and is an excellent, realistic, non-
romanticized take on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
• Common tactics included breaking into the homes of off-duty RUC police
officers and murdering them in their beds or setting booby-trap bombs
underneath RUC police officers’ cars and unionist politicians’ cars so that
they would blow up as the engine was started. RUC men were typically
targeted when they were off-duty, and many were shot dead in front of
their families. The PIRA would also impersonate innocent Catholic
civilians, call the police to report an emergency, and ambush the police
from hidden positions when they arrived at the stated address (another
reason the RUC was hesitant to go into Catholic neighborhoods during this
• Most notorious for their bombings, they would typically park car bombs in
predominately Protestant communities, call in the bomb threat so that the
area would be evacuated and an EOD squad would arrive to dismantle it..
the bomb would then be detonated with hopes of killing an EOD officer
and destroying Protestant housing tenements.
• The PIRA rarely intentionally targeted civilians, especially in the 80s’ and
90s’, but were involved in the bombings of several Protestant-owned pubs
during the 1970s in response to loyalist terrorist groups bombing Catholic-
owned pubs. They also carried out the Kingsmill massacre in 1976, in
which eleven Protestant workmen that were traveling on a minibus were
held up by the IRA and all individually executed, in response to the
execution of six Catholic civilians by the UVF the night before.
Terrorist Activities (continued)
• Other activities included engaging in firefights with British
squadrons as they patrolled the countryside/streets of urban areas,
sniper attacks on RUC or British Army patrols/checkpoints, planting
landmines along British foot patrol routes in rural areas, planting
roadside IEDs along British convoy routes, and bombing ferries and
buses containing on-or-off duty British soldiers.
• The notorious “human bomb” technique, in which civilians or off-
duty members of the British security forces were kidnapped and
then forced to drive car bombs into British military targets – such as
checkpoints and Army bases – after the PIRA had placed their
families’ lives under threat.
• Inciting riots, and providing Catholic youths with molotov cocktails
(gasoline bombs) during such riots so as to maximize public disorder
and destruction, was also an almost daily IRA activity in Catholic
communities in urban Northern Ireland.
• Suffered 33 casualties
• Killed 46 members of the British Security Forces
• Killed 2 members of the Irish Security Forces
• Killed 39 civilians
• Killed 3 civilian political activists
• Killed 16 members of rival Republican terror
• Killed 7 members of Loyalist terror groups
• Founded by Seamus Costello in 1974 as the military
wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party
• Shared similar goals to the Provisional IRA but far more
socialist in ideology; INLA wanted a socialist united
Irish republic and blamed class struggles for many of
the problems in Northern Ireland, whereas the PIRA
simply wanted a united Irish republic and had little
interest in class struggle or economics
• Whereas the PIRA was almost exclusively Catholic, the
INLA had some Protestant members, most of whom
were involved for purely socialist reasons.
• Although far less powerful and bold than the PIRA, the INLA
nevertheless presented a potent terrorist threat to the
United Kingdom during the Troubles.
• Similar tactics to the IRA; car bombings, shooting off-duty
police and soldiers dead, and high-profile assassinations.
• Their most high-profile attacks included the car bomb
assassination of Airey Neave, one of Margaret Thatcher’s
closest political supporters in 1979, the murder of infamous
Loyalist terror leader Billy Wright (who was murdered by
INLA inmates in a British political prison in 1997), and the
Ballykelley Disco Bombing in 1982, in which the INLA
bombed a disco-club frequented by off-duty British
soldiers, managing to kill 11 of them as well as 6 civilians,
as well as destroying the disco.
• A split in 1986 led the INLA to split into the INLA and
the IPLO, or Irish People’s Liberation Organization,
based on IPLO members’ perceived lack of political
motivation and heavy involvement in drug dealing and
• There were several retaliatory killings between the two
groups that persisted until 1992, when the PIRA had
enough of the IPLO’s involvement in drug dealing in
Catholic areas of Belfast and on 31 October 1992
virtually destroyed the entire organization in one night
with a series of raids, killings and kneecappings that
killed or crippled the majority of the group’s members.
• Suffered 89 casualties
• Killed 197 civilians
• Killed 12 civilian political activists
• Killed 37 members of rival loyalist terror
• Killed 11 members of republican terror groups
• Killed 3 members of the British Security Forces
• The UDA, or Ulster Defense Association, and its
military wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF),
was a loyalist, protestant terror squad that
targeted PIRA and INLA members as well as
general Catholic civilians in bombings and
shootings throughout Northern Ireland.
• It pledged to end its campaign of violence
whenever the IRA set down its arms, yet, should
the UK government appease the IRA and grant a
32-county Irish Republic, the UDA pledged to act
as “the IRA in reverse.”
• The UDA saw itself as a militia defending upstanding protestant, loyalist
communities from dangerous and lower-class Catholics that were
disrupting the status quo in Northern Ireland. They pledged primarily to
target IRA men but ended up killing a majority of Catholic civilians during
the Troubles. They were also known to intimidate and exile known
Catholic families from predominately-Protestant communities in Belfast
and other urban areas.
• Drive-by shootings, shooting up or planting bombs in predominately-
Catholic pubs and bars, and jumping, brutally beating and/or kneecapping
Catholic civilians were all frequent tactics.
• The UDA discreetly worked in collusion with the RUC and other British
security agencies so as to track down and assassinate known IRA
members. They would also patrol Protestant neighborhoods alongside
British soldiers at the height of the Troubles. Many RUC police officers and
prison guards were also UDA members.
• The UDA, alongside many other loyalist paramilitaries, benefitted from the
import of several arms shipments from Lebanese arms dealers in the early
1970s, including rocket launchers, 200+ AK-47 Rifles, 90+ handguns and
over 400 grenades. They also received various weapons, such as the uzi
submachine gun and explosive devices, from arms dealers in the Soviet
bloc in the 1980s.
• The UDA and its members were also heavily
involved in drug dealing from the street level to
wholesale purchase, primarily in MDMA and
cannabis, throughout the Troubles.
• Protection racketeering and money laundering
were also common amongst the UDA in
• However, should a member of a UDA-ran
community begin stealing or dealing drugs
without UDA consent, he was abruptly branded
as “anti-social” and either killed or kneecapped.
• Suffered unknown number of casualties
• Killed 412 civilians
• Killed 11 civilian political activists
• Killed 21 members of republican terror groups
• Killed 42 members of rival loyalist terror
• Killed 6 members of the Security Forces
• Similar to the UDA/UFF, the Ulster Volunteer
Force’s primary aim was to combat Irish
republicanism in Northern Ireland, primarily
the PIRA. They wanted Northern Ireland to
remain in the UK.
• The majority of UVF victims were Catholic
civilians, many of whom were killed at random.
These attacks were intended to demoralize the
IRA, as the IRA drew most of its support from the
• Planting bombs in predominately-Catholic pubs
or simply residential areas was a very frequent
UVF tactic, and in 1973 they detonated more
bombs in Northern Ireland than the UDA and the
PIRA combined. Assassinations, mass shootings,
booby-trap car bombs, and kidnappings were also
frequent UVF activities.
The Shankhill Butchers
• The “Shankhill Butchers” were a notorious offshoot
UVF group known for abducting and literally slitting the
throats of Catholic civilians and rival loyalist terror
groups in the late 1970s. They were led by Lenny
Murphy (who was eventually imprisoned and, upon his
release of a 4-year stint, murdered by the PIRA), and
killed 23 people, most of whom were Catholic civilians.
Many experts liken the Shankhill Butchers more to a
group of serial killers than to politically or even
• The Butchers were all eventually all either imprisoned,
killed by the PIRA, or both.
• The UVF received the majority of its weaponry in the late
1970s from Armscor, an apartheid-South Africa state-
owned arms company which, in defiance of various UN
sanctions and embargoes, sold them to the UVF.
• Weapons were thought to consist of:
• 200 Czech SA vz. 58 Assault Rifles
• 90 Browning Pistols
• 500 RGD-5 Frag Grenades
• 30,000 rounds of ammunition
• 12 RPG-7 Rocket Launchers and 150+ Rockets
• The UVF also began using the illegally-obtained mining
explosive Powergel in the early 1990s.
• The UVF was also heavily involved in organized
crime, including protection racketeering and
drug smuggling/dealing, including cannabis,
MDMA, cocaine, and amphetamines. Bank
robberies were also very frequent in the
Massacre on the Bogside
• In 1972, during a large scale but peaceful civil-rights march in the
troubled, predominately Catholic neighborhood of Bogside in Derry,
26 unarmed civil rights marchers were shot by members of the
British Army, 14 of whom were killed. Five of those shot were shot
in the back.
• After several inquiries into the incident there was found to have
been no justifiable provocation from the protestors and no shots
fired from the protestors during the march. The massacre was
conducted in full view of the public and the press.
• The PM David Cameron eventually issued a formal apology to the
victims and victims’ families of the massacre after several
investigations failed to reveal any justifiable provocation for the
• The massacre sky-rocketed PIRA membership and recruitment, as
public perception of the British Army in Catholic communities in
Northern Ireland reached an all-time low.
A City Under Siege
• On 21 July 1972, the PIRA detonated 26 bombs in the
space of 80 minutes in Belfast, destroying banks,
bridges, electrical substations, Protestant housing
tenements, gasoline stations and private garages.
• Although warnings were called in at least 30 minutes
prior to each bomb, the amount of bombs exploding
and the addition of multiple hoax warnings at the same
time led to the Security Forces being unable to
evacuate all the areas in time. 11 people were killed
and 130 were injured, many of them horrifically
mutilated. Of those injured, 77 were women or
Deadliest Attack of the Troubles
• Perpetrated by the UVF in the southern Republic
of Ireland, three car bombs exploded in Dublin
during rush hour and another exploded in
Monaghan around 90 minutes later.
• 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child were
killed in the bombing, while nearly 300 were
injured. The UVF did not claim responsibility for
the bombings until 1993.
• The majority of those killed were young women,
although the age range of those killed ranged
from 5 months old to 80 years old.
• In the southern part of County Armagh, Northern Ireland, a
predominately-Catholic rural region and former PIRA stronghold
right on the border with the southern Republic of Ireland, a British
troop convoy was hit with a remote-control detonated, roadside
500lb truck-bomb and destroyed, instantly killing 6 troops. The
surviving soldiers then wrongly believed they were under sniper fire
from the other side of the Irish border, and began firing at civilians
immediately after the bombing, killing 1 and injuring another.
• 32 minutes after the first bombing, the IRA used its knowledge of
how the British reacted to bombings to correctly predict that they
would set up an incident-command point in a nearby gatehouse.
Unfortunately for the British, there was a second, 800lb fertilizer
bomb planted near the gatehouse that, when detonated, killed 12
other soldiers who were responding to the initial bomb.
• It was the deadliest single attack on the British Army during the
Troubles, and a highly successful attack for the PIRA.
A Defining Moment for the Republican
• Beginning on 1 March 1981, led by Bobby
Sands, 7 PIRA and 3 INLA inmates at the
notorious “Maze” prison began to refuse food
until Margaret Thatcher, PM of Great Britain at
that time, began to recognize terrorist
prisoners as political prisoners, and allowed
them their “Five Demands.”
The Five Demands
• The right to not wear a prison uniform
• The right to not do prison work
• The right of free association with other
prisoners, and to organize in educational and
• Full restoration of remission lost through any
protests towards these demands.
• The Maze prison was a very high-security and low-quality prison
that housed almost all PIRA prisoners during the Troubles. It was
run in a very ethically questionable fashion, with frequent beatings
and borderline-torture techniques used on Republican prisoners,
and extremely poor living conditions for prisoners. Many Maze
prison guards were members of the UDA/UVF or had strong
connections with one of the two groups, as well.
• Massive peaceful protests and marches by Irish republicans outside
of the Maze Prison proved unsuccessful in attaining political status
for republican prisoners, as well as previous inmate protests in
1980, including non-fatal hunger strikes, inmates refusing to wear
prison uniforms and thus living in their cells naked, and prisoners
refusing to leave their cells to go to the bathroom until their
requests had been granted (they therefore urinated and defecated
in their cells, and spread their excrement across their cell walls in
what was known as the “Dirty Protest.”)
• “Those terrorists will carry their
determination to disrupt society to any
lengths. Once again we have a hunger strike in
the Maze Prison in the quest for what they call
‘political status.’ There is no such thing as
political murder, political bombing or political
violence. There is only criminal murder,
criminal bombing and criminal violence. We
will not compromise on this. There will be no
Ten Strikers Die
• Bobby Sands, the leader of the strike, was imprisoned as a PIRA
member on charges of firearm possession and in connection with
the bombing of a furniture store. He was the first to die after 66
days of not eating. Sands was elected to a seat in Parliament whilst
on Hunger Strike.
• Following Sands’ death, there were riots, bus-burnings and attacks
on the British embassy in the southern Republic of Ireland, there
were massive demonstrations in France and Italy, a tomato was
thrown as Queen Elizabeth II by demonstrators in Oslo, and there
were massive riots and civil disorder all over the streets of Belfast.
The South African ANC and (at the time) terrorist Nelson Mandela
expressed their support for the PIRA and the hunger strikers
(Mandela himself claimed he was directly inspired by Sands to
undertake hunger strikes against the Apartheid government in
South Africa) as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, a
middle-eastern terror group.
• Over 100,000 attended Sands’ funeral.
“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”
• The Hunger Strike was eventually called off after 10
strikers including Sands had died.
• James Prior, newly installed secretary of state of
Northern Ireland, granted the prisoners partial
concessions; all of the Five Demands except for the
right to not do prison work. Margaret Thatcher refused
to budge on political status.
• The Hunger Strikes opened a new way for the PIRA to
pursue its objectives: politically, whereas previously it
had seen violence as the only solution to the plight of
Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland.
The “Great Escape”
• Using smuggled-in guns and knives, 38 PIRA prisoners, who
had been convicted of offenses ranging from murder to
causing explosions, escaped from one of the most high-
security prisons in Europe. They completely took over the
H7 prison block and took their prison guards hostage
before escaping in a food supply truck. Several prison
guards were shot and stabbed, but only one died of a heart
attack during the escape.
• Fifteen escapees were recaptured the first day, with four
more captured over the next two days following the
breakout. The remaining 19 were transported to PIRA
strongholds and given the option to either rejoin the IRA’s
cause or be transported to the United States to live under a
The PIRA Nearly Gets Thatcher
• Margaret Thatcher, the highly controversial, far-right British PM
from 1979-1990 had become a tremendously hated figure amongst
the Irish nationalist community in Northern Ireland following the
1981 Hunger Strikes, and for her general uncompromising stand on
• PIRA man Patrick Magee stayed at the Brighton Hotel from the 14-
17 September 1984, planting a 20-lb bomb under his bath.
• Thatcher was staying at the Brighton Hotel for a political
conference, and was still up at 2:54AM on 12 October, when the
bomb was detonated. The bomb decimated her bathroom but left
the bedroom and sitting room of her suite largely unscathed.
• The PIRA statement to Thatcher afterwards was, “Today we were
unlucky. But remember we only have to be lucky once. You will
have to be lucky always.”
The SAS Strikes
• A botched attack on Loughgall Village’s RUC
Police Base, in which the PIRA drove a backhoe
into the fortified base and ran away to detonate
the bomb that was inside of the backhoe, went
wrong as the SAS, the British Special Forces, had
prior knowledge of the attack and quickly
dispatched the 8 PIRA members involved.
• Although the RUC base was wrecked and
bombed, there were no RUC or SAS casualties
and it was the PIRA’s greatest loss of life in a
single incident during the Troubles.
The PIRA Shoots Down a Helicopter
• Using the previously mentioned Barrack-Buster
homemade mortar, PIRA insurgents were able to
fire on a British helicopter that was in the process
of landing whilst hiding behind a hay bail from
around 150 yards out.
• The helicopter was hit with the mortar shell
around 100 feet above the ground, but the pilot
was able to successfully crash-land the helicopter
and escape before its propane tanks exploded.
There were no casualties, but the attack was a
major propaganda coup for the PIRA.
The PIRA Destroys Manchester
• On Saturday, 15 June 1996, the PIRA sent in
telephoned warnings and 90 minutes later
detonated a 3,300lb fertilizer-based truck bomb
in the heart of Manchester City Centre, the
biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain during
peacetime. The bomb killed nobody due to
previous warnings but led to 212 non-fatal
injuries and essentially destroyed Manchester
City Centre, leaving approximately 700 million
pounds ($1.2bn) worth of damage in its wake.
Last Great, Deadly Attack of the
• Perpetrated by a Provisional IRA splinter group that was
rejecting the peace process, calling themselves the “Real
IRA,” the 510lb fertilizer-based bomb was placed on main
street in the town of Omagh, Northern Ireland. Warnings
were called in approximately 30 minutes before the
bombing, but they were inaccurate and police ended up
moving more civilians towards the bomb, which ended up
killing 29 people and causing over 300 non-fatal injuries.
This was the highest death toll from a single incident during
• It received universal outrage, and was condemned even by
the PIRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein. It spurred on the
Northern Ireland peace process and the RIRA apologized
and called a ceasefire several days after.
The Good Friday Agreement and
Northern Ireland Peace Process
• Following the 1981 Hunger Strikes, Irish republicans began
to increasingly look towards politics rather than violence as
a means of achieving their aims. Sinn Fein, gaelic for “We
Ourselves,” was a fiercely Irish Republican political party
which, led by the Machiavellian former PIRA leader and
Maze inmate Gerry Adams, began to push for a more
peaceful solution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
• It became apparent by the late 1990s that, although the
PIRA was not losing a war against the British establishment,
it would be impossible to truly ‘win the fight’ through
violence and that any further terrorism would serve not to
achieve any real political aim but only to prolong and
continue suffering and violence in Northern Ireland, and
that politics was a much better way of achieving Republican
Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, former PIRA
Belfast Brigade OC
Good Friday Agreement, 1998
• The Peace Process began in 1994 and included
intermittent terrorist ceasefires and political
negotiations between the major Irish
republican and British unionist parties, and
culminated on April 10 1998 when the Good
Friday Agreement was signed.
PM Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach
Bertie Ahern Sign the GFA
• That Northern Ireland was to remain British until a majority of people in
Northern Ireland and the southern Republic of Ireland wanted otherwise.
• The creation of an entirely new, far less sectarian, and religiously diverse
Northern Irish local government.
• The decommissioning of arms from terrorist groups on both the unionist
and nationalist side of the political divide (ultimately successful, all arms
decommissioned by 2005)
• Mutual respect and civil rights between Catholics and Protestants.
• The reduction and eventual elimination of British troops in Northern
Ireland (ultimately successful, all troops withdrawn by 2005)
• Eventual early prison release for all individuals imprisoned for terrorist
offenses as long as they were apart of a terrorist group that was
decommissioning in accordance with the GFA.
• Disbandment of the RUC police service and the installation of the new
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) which was required to be at least
Still Conflict, But No War
• Since the complete decommissioning of the arms and
disbandment of the PIRA, INLA, UDA/UFF, and UVF due to
the Good Friday Agreement, there is nowhere near the
amount of violence in Northern Ireland or Belfast as there
was 20 years ago. There are no more weekly bombings and
riots, and no more British troops patrolling Catholic areas in
• Despite this, there are still occasional riots and clashes with
the PSNI several times a year, specifically on dates of great
historical significance to the Catholic or Protestant
communities, and there is still a deep distrust and even
hatred between many Catholics and Protestants in
Northern Ireland, although that continues to change with
• Many former PIRA or UDA terrorists have now taken to
organized crime for purely profiteering purposes, but
are no longer involved in substantial violence or any
• Splinter groups, such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA
in Catholic communities, and the Orange Volunteers
and Red Hand Commandos in Protestant communities,
still conduct occasional violence towards Police and
civilians in Northern Ireland, but are all rather small,
poorly armed and poorly funded groups that pose
nowhere near the threat that terrorist groups in the
80s and 90s did in Northern Ireland.
Here’s To A Brighter Future in
• “A Secret History of the IRA” by Ed Moloney –WW Norton & Company, Reprint 2003
• “Voices From The Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland” by Ed Moloney – Public Affairs, 2010
• “Fifty Dead Men Walking” by Martin McGartland – John Blake 2009