The United States of America and Northern Ireland

Senator Edward Kennedy

Edward Moore Kennedy (1932-2009) was the youngest child of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald.  Following his brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy into politics, he served as a United States Senator from Massachusetts from 1962 until his death in 2009.  He was prominent throughout his career on Irish issues and maintained close relations with John Hume from the mid-1970s onwards.  He was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth in 2009 for his work in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, an honour announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to a joint session of Congress.

The Irish Republican Army

The Irish Republican Army descended from the 1913 Irish Volunteers, the group responsible (along with the Irish Citizen Army) for the 1916 Easter Rising.  The IRA waged a guerrilla campaign against British rule during the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence before splitting as a result of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.  The two factions fought in the Irish Civil War before the pro-Treaty IRA became part of the official state security forces.  The anti-Treaty IRA flirted with socialism and embarked upon sporadic campaigns, notably during the Second World War and the 1956-1962 Border Campaign.  Upon the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s, the IRA once again split and the Provisional IRA became one of the most deadly and durable organisations of the troubles.

The Bomb and Ballot Paper Strategy

On 31 October 1981, Sinn Fein Director of Publicity, and former IRA volunteer, Danny Morrison gave an address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis during which he gave the often misquoted line "Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?"  This line gave insight into the new dual political-military strategy which the republican movement was to pursue on the back of the electoral success enjoyed by leading hunger striker Bobby Sands and subsequently by his election agent, Owen Carron.

Martin McGuinness

Born in Derry in 1950, McGuinness joined the Official IRA during 1970, quickly switching to the Provisional faction.  He rose in the Derry IRA to become its second in command by 1972, at the age of 21.  Convicted by the Republic of Ireland's Special Criminal Court in 1973, he moved towards the political wing of the movement before being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982.  He was elected as the MP for Mid-Ulster in 1997 and then served as Sinn Fein's chief negotiator in discussions leading to the Good Friday Agreement.  In 2011, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the position of President of the Republic of Ireland.  During his campaign, he came under fierce criticism for his role in the IRA from members of the public.

Gerry Adams

Born in 1948, Adams came from a family with strong republican traditions - his grandfather, also Gerry Adams, had been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood during the Irish War of Independence and his maternal great-grandfather had been part of the Fenians bombing campaign in England during the 1960s.  Adams joined the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and was active in Sinn Fein, siding with the Provisional faction after the split in the political party in January 1970.  He was interned in 1971 but the following year was part of a delegation which met with British officials in Donegal and London.  He became Vice-President of SInn Fein in 1978 and became the party's first Member of Parliament (Owen Carron had been elected on the H-Block-Armagh ticket) in the 1983 General Election.  He lost his seat in 1992 but remained an important actor during negotiations as part of the peace process.  He was re-elected in 1997 and remained MP for Belfast West until 2010 when he vacated the seat to stand for the Irish Parliament in Louth.  He subsquently won this seat in the 2011 Irish General Election.  He has always denied being part of the IRA, even though most historians have named him as a former volunteer.

Royal Ulster Constabulary


Following the Government of Ireland Act (1920), the Royal Irish Constabulary was given responsibility for security in Northern Ireland.  On 29 April 1922, King George V permitted the force to change its name to the Royal Ulster Constabulary; it officially came into existence on 1 June.  It was initially limited to 3,000 officers, one-third of which was supposed to be Roman Catholic, but due to slow recruitment from within the Catholic communities this provision was revoked and Catholics never represented more than 20% of the RUC's total force.  By the 1960s, this had dwindled to 12%.  The RUC was supported by the Ulster Special Constabulary, which proved highly provocative during the civil rights campaigns of the late 1960s and, thanks to escalating violence during August 1969, was forced to call in the British Army to act as an aid to the civil power.  Control of Northern Irish security returned to the RUC in 1976 under the normalisation policy and, as the conflct began to decline, the role of the Army was gradually reduced.  in 2001, the RUC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland, thanks to the Patten Report.

During the troubles, they lost 301 officers and saw over 9000 injured.  They were responsible for 55 deaths, 28 of which were civilians.

Libyan Arms for the IRA

After seizing power in 1969, Muammar al-Gaddafi sought to aid like-minded revolutionaries around the world.  As part of this strategy, in 1972 he opened up connections with the Provisional IRA through Joe Cahill who visited Libya.  The IRA was open to all assistance at this time and volunteers visited the United States, the USSR and North Korea.  In late March 1973, the Claudia vessel was intercepted following intelligence received by Irish security forces.  On board, they found Cahill and five tonnes of weaponry.  According to Ed Moloney, other shipments around this time brought the IRA an RPG-7 (rocket propelled grenade launcher).  Gaddafi, embarrased by the seizure of the Claudia, abandoned links with the IRA.

Following the 1981 hunger strike, Gaddafi's interest in Ireland was re-ignited.  After the US Air Force bombed Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986 (a response to the suspected LIbyan involvement in the bombing of a disco in Berlin frequented by US personnel, using British air bases, Gaddafi sent three large shipments of weapons to Ireland.  While the third, and largest, shipment aboard the Eksund was intercepted in early March 1987 by French authorities, significant amounts of weaponry did arrive, including an estimated six tonnes of semtex.  Of this six tonnes, some remains in the armory of dissident republicans following the defection of Michael McKevitt, the Provisional IRA's Quartermaster.