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Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. The Armalite and the Ballot Box. A Brief History – Part I. Highlights from Various peoples have lived in Ireland for around 9,000 years

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Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland

The Armalite and the Ballot Box

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A Brief History – Part I

  • Highlights from

  • Various peoples have lived in Ireland for around 9,000 years

  • The beginning of contemporary problems traces back to the Plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries

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A Brief History – Part II

  • During the Plantations, Irish lands were seized and given to British planters (colonists)

  • The second Plantation in Ireland was the Plantation of Ulster, focused around 1607-1609

  • About half of the Ulster Planters were Scottish and the other half English

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A Brief History – Part III

  • Irish Rebellion of 1641 – end result was Irish Catholics being barred from voting or attending Parliament, institutionalized Protestant rule (Protestant Ascendancy)

  • Images of Protestants killed and massacred in 1641 still adorn Orange Order banners and standards today

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A Brief History – Part IV

  • 1800 – Irish Parliament passes Act of Union which merges Ireland with U.K.; beginning of direct government

  • 1840s – Famine; around 1 million die, another million emigrate, many to America

  • Agitation for Home Rule throughout the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries

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A Brief History – Part V

  • Theobald Wolfe Tone – 1791 – founded United Irishmen

  • Unsuccessful French-backed invasion in 1798

  • Padraigh (Patrick) Pearse, James Connolly, Easter Rising of 1916

  • Sinn Fein landslide in elections of 1918

  • 1919 - First Dáil

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A Brief History – Part VI

  • 1918 elections were last ones that took place in whole of Ireland until European Parliament elections 60+ years later

  • 1921 – Anglo-Irish Treaty end Anglo-Irish War, divides Ireland into Republic and Ulster; Collins assassinated in subsequent Irish Civil War

  • Anglo-Irish War – first IRA

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Official IRA (OIRA)

Provos (PIRA)



Continuity IRA (CAC)



LVF / Red Hand Commando

Red Hand Defenders

The Paras

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IRA – Part I

  • Saw themselves as heirs to the original IRA, sworn to the spirit of the Easter Rising and the 1919 Dáil

  • Major ideological split in 1969 – Official IRA cease fire (Marxists, “stickies”) vs. Provos (“rosary brigade”, “pinheads”)

  • OIRA ceasefire in 1973, continued to fight with Provos

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IRA – Part II

  • Pre-1980s organization: Local volunteers form companies, companies are structured into wider geographic battalions, battlions are structured into regional brigades (ex. Derry Brigade, West Belfast Brigade)

  • Drawback: Once police and military powers increased, easy to “roll” the organization up via legitimate informers, “supergrasses”

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IRA – Part III

  • Cell structure replaced army hierarchy around early 1980s

  • Double blind communication structure of dead drops, phone calls; orders come directly from Army Council

  • No one cell knows other cells; much more difficult to compromise

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IRA – Part IV

  • Late 1970s, early 1980s: Criminalization of paras; H-Block hunger strikes, 7 IRA and 3 INLA men starve to death

  • Mobilized wider Republican political sentiment; beginning of wider Sinn Fein political success

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Methods of Mayhem

  • Wide variety of small arms, mostly smuggled from U.S., Libya

  • Kneecappings, shootings on individual level

  • Car bombs in urban areas as an area effect weapon

  • Culvert bombs in rural areas stifled British troop movement on ground

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  • 1974 break off of OIRA; aligned with Irish Republican Socialist Party

  • Assassinated Conservative MP Airey Neave by car bomb in 1979

  • Became involved in drug trade to finance operations

  • Continually split and weakened by infighting and spin offs

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  • Spin off of dissatisfied INLA members in 1986

  • Became heavily involved in drug trade as means of finance early in existence

  • Only stated goal was to fight INLA

  • Due to drug trade, PIRA wiped out IPLO in 1992

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  • Biggest contemporary Republican para threat

  • Splinters from Provos who disavowed 1998 Belfast Accords and 2005 announcement of end of campaign

  • 1998 Omagh bomb – 29 dead

  • Affiliated with 32 County Sovereignty Committee

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Continuity Army Council

  • Separate splinter from PIRA in 1986 over change in “abstentionism” policy for Sinn Fein

  • Small, limited capacity

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  • Founded in 1971 as umbrella Loyalist para organization

  • Aligned with Ulster Democratic Party

  • Supposedly carried out many killings with aid of or through manipulation from British army, intelligence

  • Heavily involved in racketeering, drug trade; many feuds with UVF

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  • Traces roots to 1912 (opposed to Home Rule); contemporarily organized in 1960s to fight IRA

  • Minority of members served in UDR while in UVF

  • Shankhill Butchers (~30), Miami Showband massacre

  • Aligned with PUP

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LVF / Red Hand Commando

  • Splintered from UVF in 1996 over 1994 cease-fire

  • Mostly fought with UVF and UDA over criminal rackets, territory

  • Only para group to kill a journalist, Martin O’Hagan, who exposed their role in the regional heroin trade

  • Ceased operation in October 2005 (?)

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Red Hand Defenders

  • Formed in 1998 from militant UDA and LVF members

  • Mostly limited to pipe bombs and individual shootings

  • “Soft” Catholic/nationalist targets and UDA, LVF members