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Land Military History Short Read

The Political Economy of PIRA Terrorism

Experimental Feature: Audio Read Version

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) enjoyed a wide portfolio for sustaining their 30-year campaign of terror.  This came from a diversified supply chain that exploited prima facie legitimate and criminal means of funding.  Yet the evidence shows that despite these supply chains the PIRA were continually plagued with the dilemmas of a centralized vs a cellular structure and balancing the political vs military wings of the organization.1  This structural tension was reflected in various arrests that occurred particularly within the United States or abroad.  Like other organizations, the PIRA adapted to the trade-offs but consistently struggled due to competing demands highlighted through the terrorist’s dilemma.  Jacob Shapiro explains that the essence of the dilemma creates a trade off between command and control (centralized network) and high-risk agency of cells (decentralized network).2 

Supply Chains and Funding

For this analysis, supply chains consist of logistical supplies ranging from medical support, weapons, food, and funds.  The PIRA flourished and likely survived longer thanks to a diverse supply chain portfolio.  Supply chains are defined here by two types: perceived legitimate and illegitimate.  Perceived legitimate chains consist of charities or political organizations that could reasonably be seen as supporting legitimate causes of humanitarian or social support.  Illegitimate supply chains consist of those chains that are maintained and sustained through illegal activities.  The case of the PIRA demonstrates there was known overlap that occurred by various actors.

Legitimate supply chains for the PIRA consisted of charitable support networks, and Irish American civil rights organizations.  During the conflict, the PIRA and the political wing Sinn Fein benefitted from local support of Catholic Churches.  Former priest turned “IRA man” Patrick Ryan admitted to using parish funds to support the PIRA in the early 1970s.3  Other funding chains of support were found through seemingly legitimate contributions of Irish Northern Aid Committee (NORAID).  The latter Irish American based charity came under intense scrutiny when it was discovered that it knowingly contributed funds to the PIRA for weapons purchases in New York City (Jones, 1987).4  Early proclamations in the 1970s demonstrate NORAID publicly fundraised for the IRA’s terror campaign, but their message to donors largely sought to appeal to shared nostalgia of Irish heritage and it is unclear whether supporters really knew what they were funding.5  It also remains unclear to what extent Sinn Fein was helping with political funds, or the PIRA was helping with illicit activities.  Presumably, both were mutually reinforcing through most of the conflict.

Through a diversified multinational supply chain, the PIRA was able to sustain both its military and political wings through the ebbs and flows of the conflict. 

The foreign illicit supply chains were even more diverse for funding and also overlap across four primary countries: Libya, the United States, Columbia, and the Republic of Ireland. The first primary chain relationship examined is Libya. The former Catholic priest Patrick Ryan renewed his relationships in Northern Africa from when he was Catholic Missionary in the 1960s.6  This relationship expanded the PIRA’s close weapons and funding supply chain from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.  Libya would continue to be a vital supply chain for weapons shipments to the PIRA throughout the conflict. 

The second country that made a useful supply chain was the United States.  The PIRA maintained a prosperous supply chain in Columbia.  They deployed operatives to support FARC and received upwards of $2 million.78  Surprisingly, the PIRA did not become engaged in international drug trafficking.9  However, it was also found that the PIRA was engaged in limited distribution activities that were domestic.  It can be assumed their relationship to FARC may have had other benefits for supplying domestic distribution.  The GAO contends the splinter PIRA faction of Direct Action Against Drugs was simply a cover name for the PIRA later into the conflict10  The PIRA’s formal stance had been opposed to drugs, though street-level trafficking did occur.11  The rationale for avoiding direct international trafficking of narcotics may be reflective of avoiding the stigma it would bring to the political wing of Sinn Fein.

The United States

All the accused managed to evade conviction through the impassioned position of supporting “freedom fighters”.

The PIRA created nother supply hub through the United States.  While there was no government sanction to support the PIRA, numerous underworld figures and pro-IRA organizations were happy to support illegal supply chain activities.  Arthur Strain explains Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger actively supported the PIRA with arms shipments.12  More confirmation of U.S. arms being bought and sold to the PIRA was discovered in New York City.  The FBI conducted an undercover operation in 1987 that caught several IRA men and Martin Galvin, the head of NORAID, trying to obtain weapons.13  All the accused managed to evade conviction through the impassioned position of supporting “freedom fighters”.14  Apparently, the defense team’s argument was so inspirational that the court clerk raised his fists and shouted “IRA all the way” upon hearing not guilty on all counts 

The Republic of Ireland 

The last supply chain of utility for the PIRA was the Republic of Ireland.  While there was no state-sponsored support to supply the PIRA, the Republic of Ireland provided geography that protected caches and critical supply chains thanks to the geography of the border.  Presumably, the PIRA also found supporters among private citizens in the Republic of Ireland.  The common cause of a United Ireland and close bonds created favorable conditions for logistical support.

The PIRA flourished and likely survived longer thanks to a diverse supply chain portfolio.

The next area of illegitimate supply chains to examine is those that were domestic, defined here as within Northern Ireland.  Domestic illegitimate supply chains for the PIRA were similar towards standard organized crime.  These activities included smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, and robberies.  As late as 2004, the PIRA had been allegedly involved in two significant bank heists generating more than $50 million.  It is likely the other Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) activities previously listed similarly yielded significant sums that are similar to the fortunes made within American organized crime.

Organization and Personnel

Another feature to examine in the PIRA economy of terror is both organization and personnel.  These events tie together because people make the center of organizations.  While it is unclear what wages the average PIRA active service member was paid, it can be assumed based on supply chains they were able to be paid.  Other costs included funerals, which functioned as excellent propaganda opportunities for the political wing of Sinn Fein. 

The threats, of infiltration or informing, were a constant concern for the PIRA.

The PIRA continued to struggle, with a lack of command and control.  This ties into the terrorist dilemma.15  Like other terrorist organizations, the PIRA adapted to their environment and made a trade-off for survival by choosing a centralized (high-risk to leadership) or decentralized (less power of leadership) structure 16  The course of the 30-year conflict highlights that these two factors routinely had to be adjusted over various stages of reorganization and phases of the conflict.17  This in turn also influenced the fluctuation of recruitment numbers through the conflict.  A core source of recruitment was localized and tended to have kinship connections.18  The localized preference towards kinship recruitment mirrors what we would see in any other mafia style organization.   The threats, of infiltration or informing, were a constant concern for the PIRA.  Though the demand for competent bombers also led to “talent spot” recruiting within the PIRA, for those with sufficient skill sets to enable operative success.19

At the same time, the PIRA did seek particular logistical leadership talent and managed to put effective leaders in place.  For example, Patrick Ryan proved to be an innovative supply manager and an astute master of bomb-craft.  Following several instances of operatives accidentally blowing themselves up as they planted bombs, Ryan developed a timing device that operatives used to evade the scene in enough time without being a casualty.20  Joe Cahill represents another unique example, for PIRA recruitment.  Cahill proved to be extremely able at both obtaining weapons deals and running the finance books for both the PIRA/Sinn Fein.21  These leaders in line with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness proved relatively effective given the ability to sustain the PIRA for over 30 years. 

Despite the rare success of enabling the PIRA to survive there was the ever-present dilemma.  As the conflict wore on the political wing and military wing experienced a series of inevitable splintering. The IRA had splintered into five groups since the mid-1970s.22  The debate over the use of violence forced the first split forming the PIRA, and ultimately that question would circle back 30 years later only to create subsequent splits.  Conflicts over resource allocation and chosen tactics operated as mutually conflicting variables that set organizational policy. Adams and McGuinness sought to align both to the political wing based on the view they saw strategic opportunities. This view was not universally accepted within the cellular structure of the PIRA. This resulted in some factions split away. Yet, enough of the PIRA membership ended up aligning to their long-known leaders who repeatedly denied being on the IRA Army Council.23

Conclusion

The PIRA terror economy presents a significant anomaly  which re-label’s the claim ‘logistics win wars’ to ‘logistics win terror’.  Through a diversified multi-national supply chain, the PIRA was able to sustain both its military and political wings through the ebbs and flows of the conflict.  Properly placed personnel and adaptive techniques to counterterrorism remedies highlight that the terrorist dilemma still holds a heavy weight. Infiltration at top echelons would further exacerbate both division and suspicion within the PIRA.  The result became inevitable factionalism or all out disillusionment.  Through a stroke of luck, the sustained peace on the Island of Ireland suggests a significant portion of the PIRA ended up following the leaders of the political wing or abandoning the movement altogether. 

 

Gabriel Koshnisky

Gabriel Koshinsky is an Armor Captain who holds a B.A. in Philosophy at Capital University,a M.S. in Organizational Leadership at Columbus State University, and a M.S. in Intelligence & National Security studies at University of Texas at El Paso. He currently attends the Command & General Staff College, in Fort Leavenworth, KS.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.

Footnotes

  1. Walter Enders and Todd Sandler, The Political Economy of Terrorism, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012). https://www.amazon.com/Political-Economy-Terrorism-Walter-Enders/dp/0521181003
  2. Jacob N. Shapiro, Jacob N. Shapiro, The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 2013).
  3. Tim Wyatt, “‘I Had a Hand in Most of Them’: Irish Ex-Priest Admits Role in IRA Bombings, Including Brighton Attack on Thatcher,” The Independent, September 29, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/patrick-ryan-margaret-thatcher-ira-bomb-brighton-priest-northern-ireland-a9118056.html.
  4. T K Jones, “See More IRISH TROUBLES, AMERICAN MONEY,” The Washington Post, March 22, 1987, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1987/03/22/irish-troubles-american-money/593e3941-826e-4719-bc79-8eb528f8ac70/.
  5. T K Jones, “See More IRISH TROUBLES, AMERICAN MONEY,” The Washington Post, March 22, 1987.
  6. Tim Wyatt, “‘I Had a Hand in Most of Them’: Irish Ex-Priest Admits Role in IRA Bombings, Including Brighton Attack on Thatcher,” The Independent, September 29, 2019.
  7. Ryan Clarke and Stuart Lee, “The PIRA, D-COMPANY, and the Crime-Terror Nexus,” Terrorism and Political Violence 20, no. 3 (2008): pp. 376-395, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546550802073334.
  8. Bloom, Mia. “Constructing Expertise: Terrorist Recruitment and ‘Talent Spotting’ in the PIRA, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, no. 7 (2017): 603–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610x.2016.1237219.
  9. Government Accountability Office, No Information to Link Irish Terrorist Organizations to International Narcotics Trafficking (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), 2000), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GAOREPORTS-OSI-00-18R/html/GAOREPORTS-OSI-00-18R.htm
  10. Government Accountability Office, No Information to Link Irish Terrorist Organizations to International Narcotics Trafficking (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), 2000), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GAOREPORTS-OSI-00-18R/html/GAOREPORTS-OSI-00-18R.htm
  11. Government Accountability Office, No Information to Link Irish Terrorist Organizations to International Narcotics Trafficking (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), 2000).
  12. Arthur Strain, “James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s Ira Links,” November 14, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24948640.
  13. Little, Ivan. “IRA Gun Runner Hosted Martin McGuinness in New York Home, Reveals FBI Agent.” Belfast Telegraph, September 24, 2019. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/ira-gun-runner-hosted-martin-mcguinness-in-new-york-home-reveals-fbi-agent-38525781.html.
  14. Little, Ivan. “IRA Gun Runner Hosted Martin McGuinness in New York Home, Reveals FBI Agent.” Belfast Telegraph, September 24, 2019.
  15. Antony Field, “The Hollow Hierarchy: Problems of Command and Control in the Provisional IRA,” Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations 8, no. 3 (2017): pp. 11-23, https://cvir.st-andrews.ac.uk/articles/10.15664/jtr.1328/.
  16. Jacob N. Shapiro, The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 2013).
  17. Antony Field, “The Hollow Hierarchy: Problems of Command and Control in the Provisional IRA,” Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations 8, no. 3 (2017): pp. 11-23, https://cvir.st-andrews.ac.uk/articles/10.15664/jtr.1328/.
  18. Antony Field, “The Hollow Hierarchy: Problems of Command and Control in the Provisional IRA,” Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations 8, no. 3 (2017): pp. 11-23, https://cvir.st-andrews.ac.uk/articles/10.15664/jtr.1328/
  19. Mia Bloom, “Constructing Expertise: Terrorist Recruitment and ‘Talent Spotting’ in the PIRA, Al Qaeda, and ISIS,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, no. 7 (2017): pp. 603-623, https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610x.2016.1237219
  20. Tim Wyatt, “‘I Had a Hand in Most of Them’: Irish Ex-Priest Admits Role in IRA Bombings, Including Brighton Attack on Thatcher,” The Independent, September 29, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/patrick-ryan-margaret-thatcher-ira-bomb-brighton-priest-northern-ireland-a9118056.html.
  21. T K Jones, “See More IRISH TROUBLES, AMERICAN MONEY,” The Washington Post, March 22, 1987, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1987/03/22/irish-troubles-american-money/593e3941-826e-4719-bc79-8eb528f8ac70/.
  22. Jacob N. Shapiro, The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 2013).
  23. Thomas Harding, “Adams and McGuinness Named as IRA Leaders,” The Telegraph, February 21, 2005, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1483997/Adams-and-McGuinness-named-as-IRA-leaders.html

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