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IN 1969, an­gry Ir­ish Na­tion­al­ists de­cided the IRA was too soft.

As far as they were con­cerned, the IRA had failed to pro­tect the Catholic com­mu­nity – one of its main du­ties – when ri­ots broke out with po­lice and Protes­tants all over the province.

In re­sponse, they formed the ul­tra-ag­gres­sive para­mil­i­tary unit the Pro­vi­sional IRA or ‘Provos’.

Thirty years – and a pretty se­ri­ous bomb­ing cam­paign – later, 1,800 peo­ple had been killed.

Although the Provos shared the same goal as the IRA – to re­move North­ern Ire­land from the UK and bring about a united Ire­land – their meth­ods were far more force­ful.

Their early weaponry was out­dated, con­sist­ing of Sec­ond World War M1 Garands and Thompson sub­ma­chine guns.

It was only in the early 70s, forg­ing links with sup­port­ers in the US as well as Libyan dic­ta­tor Colonel Gaddafi, that they be­came really dan­ger­ous.

Af­ter a brief cease­fire in 1975, the Provos’ strat­egy changed as they pre­pared to wage a “Long War”, split­ting into small cells and with more em­pha­sis on their po­lit­i­cal arm, Sinn Fein.

A 1977 edi­tion of the Provos’ in­duc­tion and train­ing man­ual talks of a “war of at­tri­tion”, caus­ing as many Bri­tish deaths as pos­si­ble and bomb­ing eco­nomic tar­gets in a bid to make long-term in­vest­ment in North­ern Ire­land im­pos­si­ble for the UK government.

The Provos called a cease­fire in 1994 on the un­der­stand­ing that Sinn Fein would be in­cluded in talks for set­tle­ment.

But when the UK de­manded dis­ar­ma­ment be­fore that could hap­pen, they called off the truce and car­ried out bomb­ing and shoot­ing at­tacks in 1996 and 1997.

Bomb­ings in Manch­ester and Lon­don’s Dock­lands caused dam­age es­ti­mated at £500mil­lion.


Even­tu­ally, the cease­fire was re­in­stated in 1997 and Sinn Fein was read­mit­ted into the peace process, which led to the Good Fri­day Agree­ment in 1998.

It’s es­ti­mated that the Provos were re­spon­si­ble for 1,800 deaths, in­clud­ing 1,100 Bri­tish se­cu­rity forces mem­bers and 630 civil­ians.

Over a 30-year pe­riod, the Provos are thought to have lost be­tween 275 and 300 out of a mem­ber­ship of 10,000.

When the IRA Army Coun­cil an­nounced an end to its armed cam­paign in 2005, the Provos’ de­com­mis­sioned their weapons. But the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­mains clas­si­fied as a pro­scribed ter­ror­ist group in the UK and an il­le­gal body in the Repub­lic Of Ire­land.

Two break­away groups, the Real IRA and Con­ti­nu­ity IRA, re­ject the Good Fri­day Agree­ment and still con­tinue to en­gage in para­mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity.

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