Flying Column number 2 of the Third Tipperary Brigade
Flying Column number 2 of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Old IRA, photographed during the early 1920s. Image Credit: AFP

The Irish Republican Army was founded in the aftermath of the failed 1916 Easter Rising that attempted to end eight centuries of English and British involvement and rule over Ireland.

In elections in 1918, Sinn Fein won a landslide victory on a platform of Irish independence. It set up a parliament or “Dail” in Dublin in January 1919, and declared the IRA to be its official military. These events precipitated the War of Independence.

The War of Independence ended in a truce on July 11, 1921. Both sides negotiated a treaty portioning Ireland, which would see an Irish Free State — now the Republic of Ireland — created in the southern 26 counties, with six counties in Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

That treaty and partition led to a Civil War in the Irish Free State, with IRA elements who opposed the deal believing the Irish Republic as proclaimed in 1916 was sold out, and that the new southern state was illegitimate. They remained committed to forming a single united Ireland through whatever means necessary.

Following civil rights protests and an outbreak of violence in the early 1970s in Northern Ireland, the IRA elements splintered, with the Provisional wing — the “Provos” — winning out. They and other terrorist groups waged a campaign of violence that saw 3,600 killed and 36,000 more injured.

That campaign ended with a ceasefire and then the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which set up a power-sharing government for the province and gave Britain and the Republic a joint say in the administration of the province. The border structure between north and south was eliminated.

The IRA agreed to disarm and disband, with other paramilitaries following suit. It was a decision that led to some elements of the IRA splintering into the Continuity IRA and other smaller, local gangs and vigilantes.

The New IRA is comprised of these “non-conformist” elements in small cells.

Mirroring itself against Sinn Fein, the New IRA is also closely associated with a new radical republican party, Soaradh — meaning “freedom”.

Unlike its predecessors, the group has little popular support.