Irish Republican Armed Campaigns
The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was an armed organisation committed to ending British rule in Ireland. The 1921 treaty that ended the Irish War of Independence partitioned Ireland into the 26 county Irish Free State and six counties of Ulster (Northern Ireland) which remained part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland had a majority Protestant population. In 1969 the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson deployed the British Army in Northern Ireland to quell sectarian rioting by Protestant mobs. The failure of the British Army to protect Catholic communities led to widespread anger and the formation of the Provisionals. As the violence spiraled out of control, the IRA extended its armed struggle against the British state to the streets of London.
Armed attacks by Irish Republicans in London have a long history dating back to the campaigns of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the 19th century. The rationale behind attacking targets in Britain remained the same over two centuries: to generate publicity for the Republican cause and to force the British government to change its Irish policy.
The IRA’s London bombing campaigns during the 1970s caused considerable destruction and left many dead and injured in their wake. On 31 October 1971, a bomb exploded at the Post Office Tower in central London forcing it to be closed to the public. The IRA detonated two car bombs on 8 March 1973 killing one person and injuring around 200. One of the bombs was placed outside the Old Bailey. In September that year bombs at King's Cross and Euston railway stations injured 12 people.
On 17 June 1974, an explosion at the Houses of Parliament injured 11 people. A bomb went off at the Tower of London on 17 July killing one person and injuring 41 others. Three members of staff were injured on 22 October when a device exploded at Brooks’s, a private members’ club popular with military officers. A bomb thrown through the window of a pub near the Royal Artillery Training Centre at Woolwich killed two people and wounded 28 others on 7 November. A bomb exploded at the Belgravia home of Conservative Party leader Edward Heath on 22 December.
After a short ceasefire the IRA resumed its campaign by carrying out a number of attacks in the West End during January 1975. A booby trap device planted in Kensington killed a bomb disposal officer on 29 August 1975. On 5 September 1975, a bomb at the London Hilton killed two people and injured 63 others. This was followed on 27 November by the assassination of Ross McWhirter, a BBC TV presenter who had offered a reward for the capture of IRA members, at his Enfield home.
The IRA’s 1974-75 campaign climaxed in the famous ‘Balcombe Street Siege’ on 6 December 1975. After being pursued by police across the West End, the four members of the IRA Active Service Unit took a couple hostage in their home on Balcombe Street in Marylebone. The IRA men finally released their hostages and surrendered to police after six days. That October the ‘Guildford Four’ (Patrick Armstrong, Gerard Conlon, Paul Hill, and Carole Richardson) had been falsely convicted at the Old Bailey of bombings committed by the ‘Balcombe Street gang’.
Perhaps the most high profile assassination of the 1970s was not the work of the IRA however. On 30 March 1979, a car bomb planted by another Irish Republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), killed Airey Neave, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, outside the House of Commons. After her election later that year, the new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a close friend of Neave, adopted a hardline stance toward Irish Republicanism.
On 10 October 1981, a bomb at Chelsea Barracks killed two people and injured 40 others. A bomb planted in Oxford Street on 26 October killed the bomb disposal officer who was trying to defuse it. On 20 July 1982, the IRA targeted the British Army with two bombs. The first exploded at Hyde Park, killing four soldiers and injuring a number of civilian bystanders. The second device was hidden under a bandstand in Regent's Park and killed seven bandsmen and injured several dozen spectators. On 17 December 1983, a bomb exploded outside Harrods in Knightsbridge during the busy pre-Christmas shopping period, killing six people and injuring up to 90.
The 1990s saw the IRA target London’s major political and financial institutions. On 20 July 1990, a bomb exploded at the London Stock Exchange. The British Cabinet came under mortar attack during a meeting at 10 Downing Street on 7 February 1991. One person was killed and over 40 injured after a bomb exploded at Victoria station later that month.
On 28 February 1992, a bomb exploded at London Bridge station, injuring 28 people. A massive bomb went off on 10 April at the Baltic Exchange in the City of London, killing three people and injuring 91 others. On 12 October, a bomb in the men's toilet of the Sussex Arms public house in Covent Garden killed one person and injured four others.
On 24 April 1993 a large truck bomb exploded at Bishopsgate, killing one person and injuring around 40 others. The explosion caused over £350 million worth of damage and destroyed the medieval church of St Ethelburga’s.
March 1994 saw three unsuccessful mortar attacks on Heathrow Airport over a five-day period. The IRA announced a ‘complete cessation of military operations’ on 6 August 1994 and Sinn Fein entered peace talks with the British government. The IRA ended its ceasefire on 10 February 1996 by detonating a lorry bomb at South Quay on the Isle of Dogs. Two people were killed and 40 others injured.
The ceasefire was restored in July 1997 and Sinn Fein was re-admitted to the 'Peace Process'. This culminated in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998. A minority of dissidents opposed the peace process and vowed to continue the armed struggle. In June 2000 an Irish Republican splinter group known as the ‘Real IRA’ exploded a bomb at Hammersmith Bridge. In September that year the group fired a rocket propelled grenade at the security service MI6‘s headquarters on the Albert Embankment.
On 28 July 2005 the IRA announced that its armed struggle was over. The IRA decommissioned its weapons between July and September 2005.
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