The PIRA is a terrorist group formed in 1969, dedicated to removing British government from Northern Ireland, and to the unification of Ireland. It is organized into small, tightly knit cells under the leadership of the Army Council.
The Provos were initially a splinter group of the Official IRA, which claimed descent from the Old IRA, which was the army of the Irish Republic, (1919-22), and which split into pro- and anti-treaty factions during the Irish Civil War. The 'Officials', or Official IRA, moved to a more marxist analysis of the 'Irish Problem' in the mid 1960s. The Provos held to a more traditional republican analysis and 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. While it and its political wing, Sinn Féin, operated on the belief that it 'spoke for Ireland', at no stage has it never had mass support. Even with the end of its war and the entry of its ministers into government in Stormont, and with all the resulting media exposure and good-will from some, it still receives relatively small support in the Republic of Ireland (5 TDs out of 166). In Northern Ireland its support base is stronger but still remains anything but politically dominant, though if it gets more MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly at Stormont) a member of the party may become Deputy First Minister. (That post is currently held by Mark Durkan, leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, which currently has more MLAs than Sinn Féin.)
In the past, the movement's appeal was hurt badly by some of its bombing outrages, notably the murder of men and women attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen or the killing of two children at Warrington, which led to tens of thousands of people packing O'Connell Street in Dublin calling for the end to their campaign of violence.
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 Colombia who were allegedly training Colombian 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. However, following the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing government in 2002, which was partially triggered off by allegations that republican spies were operating within Parliament Buildings and the Civil Service, the PIRA abandoned their association with General de Chastelain. It is expected that if and when power-sharing resumes, the PIRA disarmament process will begin again, though it is already years behind schedule. Increasing numbers of people, from the Ulster Unionists under David Trimble and the SDLP under Mark Durkan to the Irish Government under Bertie Ahern and the mainstream Irish media, have begun demanding not merely decommissioning, which was meant to have been completed by now, but the wholescale disbandment of the IRA.
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 Members of Parliament. Members of the Garda Siochána[?] (The Republic of Ireland's police force) have also been killed, most notoriously Detective Garda Gerry McCabe, who was shot and killed after the ceasefire. It is claimed that elements of the PIRA are involved in recent months in a spate of bank robberies thoughout the island, allegedly to build up funds to 'pension off' PIRA members and so facilitate disbandment. Loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF and the UDA are currently not on 'ceasefire' and are engaged in an internal war. PIRA bombing campaigns have been conducted against rail and London Underground (Subway) stations and shopping areas on 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.
There have been persistent rumours that the Provisional IRA had been infiltrated by British Intelligence agents, and that senior IRA members were informers.
In May 2003 a number of newspapers published the alleged identity of the British Force Research Unit's most senior informer within the Provisional IRA, code-named Stakeknife, who is thought to have been head of the Provisional IRA's internal security force, charged with routing out informers like himself. The person named has fled.