Study Document

Evaluating the Ideology of the IRA Essay

Pages:9 (2717 words)



Topic:Irish Republican Army

Document Type:Essay


The Tactics of the British Intelligence against the IRA

History of the IRA

The Provisional IRA formed in response to a war between the Irish Republican Army and the British state in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 1998. The IRA or what is commonly referred to as the IRA in the West was actually a breakaway from the Army and is better known as PIRA in Ireland. However, because it stood as the fighting force and face of the Irish resistance, it is typically referred to as IRA for short. The IRA was a formal fighting force up until the 1970s when fears of British infiltration caused the IRA to become a secret organization with a cell structure. The IRA published its Green Book, which laid out the rules of being an IRA volunteer. Meanwhile, on the political front was Sinn Fein, which negotiated behind the scenes with the British state throughout the period known as the Troubles (1969-98) (O’Brien, 1999; Tonge, 2002).

The IRA struggled with security and with gaining control of any territory. Thus, whatever impact or effect it achieved through its use of snipers, bombing campaigns and guerilla style violence was ultimately only a superficial victory because the group remained on insecure footing and had no realm that it could point to as having control of. The IRA also struggled with the fact that a political peace with the British seemed to be a “sell out” option and pursuing this would undermine the vision and mission of the group, so it was not a viewed as an appropriate strategy to flaunt on the surface of things, though it was a strategy supported in ways behind the scenes.

The Troubles began in 1969 as war broke out between the Irish nationalists and the unionists, the former mainly Catholic and the latter mainly Protestant. Violence against nationalists had occurred in Northern Ireland and the victims felt persecuted and vowed to avenge themselves against the “wave of sectarian violence” that happened in Northern Ireland (Bamford, 2005, p. 582). As the Irish Republican Army was perceived to be remiss in its defense of Irish Catholics in the north, the Provisional IRA formed to deal with what its members viewed as systematic persecution of Catholics in Northern (mainly Protestant) Ireland, itself officially part of the UK and not “independent” in the same sense as the Irish Republic.

The Provisional IRA targeted the UK’s economic infrastructure within Northern Ireland as well as politicians and the social order, too. The British forces cracked down hard on what it viewed as unlawful dissent, and in 1972 Bloody Sunday occurred when the British fired on protestors demonstrating against the British state in Northern Ireland. Seven months later, the IRA conducted Bloody Friday with dozens of car bombs that blasted through Belfast and Londonderry (Bamford, 2005). The purpose of this attack was to force the British to the table to talk about leaving Ireland for good. However, that was a non-starter for talks and so the stand-off continued. The aim of the IRA at that point was to cripple the economy of Belfast through a terror campaign (Maloney, 2010). Five years later, the Provisional IRA converted itself into a cell structure as mass arrests were occurring and the ranks of the IRA were being dismantled by British intelligence. Co-founder and devout Catholic Sean MacStiofain believed violence was necessary to end Northern Ireland’s occupation by the British but was arrested in Dublin in 1972. He went on a hunger strike, and because he was popular his strike caused further civil disturbances. After his release in 1973, he was barred from re-entry into the IRA and his influence waned from that point on. Eventually, the IRA agreed to disband and a political resolution was struck with Sinn Fein leading the way.


The ideology at the heart of the IRA was to use force and to show to the British through the use of shocking violence that the Irish nationalists meant business. MacStiofain’s idea was that the best tactic was escalation in hopes of wearing down the British as there was really no way the IRA could achieve a strategic victory. Because the IRA believed in force but was small in terms of actual force size, it had to rely on volunteers and guerilla style tactics to achieve its aim of escalation. The guerilla style tactics (car bombings like on Bloody Friday and sniper fire) helped to kill British soldiers and citizens, but failed to achieve the long term objective of driving the British out of Northern Ireland or bringing them to the table whereupon MacStiofain’s demands would be met. MacStiofain’s demands consisted of the following:

1) The right of Ireland to decided its own political future by acting as a single state rather than as one divided;

2) Declaration of intent by the British state to withdraw fully from Northern Ireland by January 1975; and

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…(Tonge, 2002). The strategy was completely authoritarian and meant to be as oppressive towards the IRA as the IRA meant to be antagonistic to the British. IRA volunteers were viewed as criminals without exception and by painting them as such in the press, the British were able to “localize the conflict” and prevent popular support from abroad from pouring in (Tuck, 2007, p.169).

Because by the 1980s the IRA essentially consisted of little more than secretive street gangs, there was a need for more use of British intelligence. However, there was not a lot of cooperation between RUC and British intelligence, and so the main method was to enforce containment through measures like the Falls Road curfew, which really only exacerbated the situation and caused the IRA to dig down and entrench (Tuck, 2007).

To get a better hold on the situation, British intelligence employed dubious methods uncovered during the later Stevens Enquiry. The Stevens report consisted of “three Enquiries into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland” and it highlighted “the willful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder” (Stevens, 2003, p. 3). The report showed that the RUC and British agents did target Irish nationalists and engage in guerilla-style assassinations in the same vein as the IRA. This was called “tactical flexibility” on the part of the British and in essence it was a tactical reflection of the enemy’s methods. The same war tactics were used on both sides, but because the British controlled the narrative, they were able to depict the IRA as the terrorists.

The British protected informants and looked the other way when those informants committed crimes, as it was important to be able to penetrated IRA cells and this meant that a certain discretion had to be allowed in terms of operating within the realm of the criminal underworld. Eventually there was more coordination between British intelligence and the police, which helped to create greater cohesion and synergy between departments, which further put pressure on the IRA. The British continued to infiltrate the IRA throughout the Troubles, to the point where it was believed that “one in six IRA volunteers worked for the FRU,” the Force Research Unit of the British Army (Moran, 2010, p. 8). In the end, it was a combination of these ruthless tactics and infiltration that led to the ultimate…

Sample Source(s) Used


Bamford, B. (2005). The Role and Effectiveness of Intelligence in Northern Ireland. Intelligence and National Security, 20(4), 581-607.

Branch, S., Shallcross, L., Barker, M., Ramsay, S., & Murray, J. P. (2018). Theoretical Frameworks That Have Explained Workplace Bullying: Retracing Contributions Across the Decades. Concepts, Approaches and Methods, 1-44.

Coogan, T. P. (2002). The IRA. New York: Palgrave.

Hilton, J. L., & Von Hippel, W. (1996). Stereotypes. Annual review of psychology, 47(1), 237-271.

IRA Green Book. (1977). Accessed 14 Dec 2015 from

Lumen. (2019). Theoretical perspectives on deviance. Retrieved from

Maloney, E. (2010). Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland. NY: Faber, Faber.

McLeod, S. (2008) Social Identity Theory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from

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