Provisional Irish Republican Army

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Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA)

Also known as "the Provos" and the Irish Republican Army. Most commonly referred to simply as the "IRA", although several groups claim that title. For a history of these groups see the Irish Republican Army entry.

A terrorist group formed in 1969, dedicated to removing British government from Northern Ireland, and to the unification of Ireland. The PIRA is organized into small, tightly knit cells under the leadership of the Army Council.

The Provos were initially a splinter group of the old IRA, but became larger and more successful, eventually overshadowing the original group. The name arose when those who were unhappy with the IRA's Army Council formed a "Provisional Army Council" of their own, echoing in turn the "Provisional Government" proclaimed during the Easter Rising of 1916.

The split in the armed wing of the republican movement was mirrored in the separation of their political wing, Provisional Sinn Féin (later known simply as Sinn Féin), from the older organisation (which itself eventually became the Workers' Party). The new Provisional group was less committed to a revolutionary class-based socialist view of the situation.

The PIRA has several hundred members and several thousand sympathizers, although its strength may have been affected by operatives leaving the organization to join hardline splinter groups.

The PIRA received funds and arms from sympathizers in the United States and has received aid from a variety of groups and countries and considerable training and arms from Libya and, at one time, the PLO. This support has been weakened by so called "War against Terrorism", the events of September 11th and the discovery of three PIRA suspects in Columbia who were allegedly were training Columbian Farc terrorists.

Calls from Sinn Féin have lead the PIRA to commence disarming in a process that has been overviewed by General John de Chastelain's decommissioning organisation in October, 2001.

Area of Operation

Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, and Europe.


Bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, punishment beatings, extortion, and robberies. Previous targets have included the British Military, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and civilians in Northern Ireland, senior British Government officials, and Northern Irish Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF and the UDA. Bombing campaigns have been conducted against rail and London Underground (Subway) stations and shopping areas on mainland Great Britain, and a British military facility on the European Continent. The IRA has been observing a cease-fire since July 1997 (although hardline splinter groups such as the Real IRA are still active in mainland Britain) and previously observed a cease-fire from 1 September 1994 to February 1996.