Official Irish Republican Army

Official Irish Republican Army
(Óglaigh na hÉireann Oifigiúil)
Participant in the Troubles
Official IRA "mobile patrol" in Turf Lodge, Belfast, April 1972
ActiveDecember 1969 – May 1972
IdeologyIrish republicanism
LeadersCathal Goulding, Billy McMillen
Area of operationsNorthern Ireland (mainly); Republic of Ireland; England
Size1,500–2,000 (between 1969 and 1972)
Originated asIrish Republican Army
Opponent(s)United Kingdom
Loyalist paramilitaries
Provisional IRA (March 1971, March 1975)
Irish National Liberation Army (1974–1982)

The Official Irish Republican Army or Official IRA (OIRA; Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann Oifigiúil[1][2]) was an Irish republican paramilitary group whose goal was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and create a "workers' republic" encompassing all of Ireland.[3] It emerged in December 1969, shortly after the beginning of the Troubles, when the Irish Republican Army split into two factions. The other was the Provisional IRA. Each continued to call itself simply "the IRA" and rejected the other's legitimacy. Unlike the "Provisionals", the "Officials" didn’t think that Ireland could be unified until the Protestant majority and Catholic minority were at peace with each other. The Officials were Marxist and worked to form a united front with other Irish communist groups, named the Irish National Liberation Front (NLF).[4] The Officials were called the NLF by the Provisionals[5][6] and were sometimes nicknamed the Red IRA by others.[7][8][9]

It waged a limited campaign against the British Army, mainly involving shooting and bombing attacks on troops in urban working-class neighbourhoods. Most notably, it was involved in the 1970 Falls Curfew and carried out the 1972 Aldershot bombing. In May 1972, it declared a ceasefire and vowed to limit its actions to defence and retaliation.[10] By this time, the Provisional IRA had become the larger and more active faction. Following the ceasefire, the OIRA began to be referred to as "Group B" within the Official movement.[11][12] It became involved in feuds with the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA),[13] an OIRA splinter group formed in 1974. It has also been involved in organized crime and vigilantism.

The Official IRA was linked to the political party Official Sinn Féin, later renamed Sinn Féin - the Workers Party and then the Workers' Party of Ireland.

The split in the Republican movement, 1969–1970

The shift to the left

The split in the Irish Republican Army, soon followed by a parallel split in Sinn Féin, was the result of the dissatisfaction of more traditional and militant republicans at the political direction taken by the leadership. The particular object of their discontent was Sinn Féin's ending of its policy of abstentionism in the Republic of Ireland. This issue is a key one in republican ideology, as traditional republicans regarded the Irish state as illegitimate and maintained that their loyalty was due only to the Irish Republic declared in 1916 and in their view, represented by the IRA Army Council.[14]

During the 1960s, the republican movement under the leadership of Cathal Goulding radically re-assessed their ideology and tactics after the dismal failure of the IRA's Border Campaign in the years 1956–62. They were heavily influenced by popular front ideology and drew close to communist thinking. A key intermediary body was the Communist Party of Great Britain's organisation for Irish exiles, the Connolly Association. The Marxist analysis was that the conflict in Northern Ireland was a "bourgeois nationalist" one between the Ulster Protestant and Irish Catholic working classes, fomented and continued by the ruling class. Its effect was to depress wages, since worker could be set against worker. They concluded that the first step on the road to a 32-county socialist republic in Ireland was the "democratisation" of Northern Ireland (i.e., the removal of discrimination against Catholics) and radicalisation of the southern working class. This would allow "class politics" to develop, eventually resulting in a challenge to the hegemony of both what they termed "British imperialism" and the respective unionist and Irish nationalist establishments north and south of the Irish border.[15]

Goulding and those close to him argued that, in the context of sectarian division in Northern Ireland, a military campaign against the British presence would be counter-productive, since it would delay the day when the workers would unite around social and economic issues.

The sense that the IRA seemed to be drifting away from its conventional republican roots into Marxism angered more traditional republicans. The radicals viewed Ulster Protestants with unionist views as "fellow Irishmen deluded by bourgeois loyalties, who needed to be engaged in dialectical debate"[citation needed]. As a result, they were reluctant to use force to defend Catholic areas of Belfast when they came under attack from Ulster loyalists—a role the IRA had performed since the 1920s.[16] Since the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association marches began in 1968, there had been many cases of street violence. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had been shown on television in undisciplined baton charges, and had already killed five non-combatant civilians, three of whom were children. The Orange Order's "marching season" during the summer of 1969 had been characterised by violence on both sides, which culminated in the three-day "Battle of the Bogside" in Derry.

August 1969 riots

The critical moment came in August 1969 when there was a major outbreak of intercommunal violence in Belfast and Derry, with eight deaths, six of them Catholics, and whole streets ablaze. On 14–15 August loyalists burned out several Catholic streets in Belfast in the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. IRA units offered resistance, however very few weapons were available for the defence of Catholic areas. Many local IRA figures, and ex-IRA members such as Joe Cahill and Billy McKee, were incensed by what they saw as the leadership's decision not to take sides and in September, they announced that they would no longer be taking orders from the Goulding leadership.[17]

Discontent was not confined to the northern IRA units. In the south also, such figures as Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Sean MacStiofain opposed both the leadership's proposed recognition of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This increasing political divergence led to a formal split at the 1969 IRA Convention, held in December. when a group led by Ó Brádaigh and MacStiofán walked out. The split resulted from a vote at the first IRA Convention where a two-thirds majority voted that republicans should take their seats if elected to the British, Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland Parliaments. At a second convention, a group consisting of Mac Stiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ó Brádaigh, Joe Cahill, Paddy Mulcahy, Leo Martin, and Sean Tracey, were elected as the "Provisional" Army Council. Their supporters included Seamus Twomey.

Accounts at that time suggest that the IRA members split roughly in half, with those loyal to the Goulding-led "Official" IRA prominent in some areas while the Provisional IRA were prominent in others.[18] A strong area for the Official IRA in Belfast was the Lower Falls and Markets district, which were under the command of Billy McMillen. Other OIRA units were located in Derry, Newry, Strabane, Dublin, Wicklow and other parts of Belfast. However, the Provisionals would rapidly become the dominant faction, both as a result of intensive recruitment in response to the sectarian violence and because some Official IRA units (such as the Strabane company) later defected to them.[19]

There was a similar ideological split in Sinn Féin after a contentious 1970 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. The leadership of Sinn Féin passed a motion to recognise the Parliaments in London, Dublin and Stormont but failed to attain the prerequisite two-thirds majority necessary to change Sinn Féin's constitutional opposition to partitionist assemblies. Those defeated in the motion walked out.[20] This resulted in a split into two groups with the Sinn Féin name. Those supportive of Seán Mac Stiofáin's "Provisional Army Council", were referred to in the media as Provisional Sinn Féin,[21][22] or Sinn Féin Kevin Street, and contested elections as Sinn Féin. The other group, under the leadership of Tomás Mac Giolla, was to contest elections first as Official Sinn Féín, then Sinn Féin The Workers' Party, and aligned itself with the Official IRA, as the Marxist faction had come to be known. The party retained the historic Sinn Féin headquarters of Gardiner Street, thus giving legitimacy to its claim, in the eyes of some, to be the legitimate successor of that party. It was briefly known popularly as Sinn Féin Gardiner Place.

The Officials were known as the "Stickies" because they sold stick-on lilies to commemorate the Easter Rising; the Provisionals, by contrast, were known as "Pinnies" (pejoratively "Pinheads") because they produced pinned-on lilies. The term Stickies stuck, although Pinnies (and Pinheads) disappeared, in favour of the nickname "Provos" and for a time, "Provies". (The paper-and-pin Easter Lily of the IRA was the traditional commemorative badge of the Easter Rising,[23] whereas the self-adhesive Easter Lily of the Officials was a novel invention, symbolic of the divergence of opinion between them).

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