February marks twenty years since the IRA detonated a bomb in the Canary Warf financial district of London, killing two, causing an estimated £100 million worth of damage, and bringing an end to the seventeen month ceasefire which had been organised as part of the ongoing peace process. Nearly fourty people were injured in the blast and its aftermath, and while the IRA admitted the deaths and injuries were ‘regrettable’, they said that they could have been avoided if the police had responded promptly to the warnings they had given 90 minutes before the blast to media in Belfast and Dublin.
The IRA has played an undeniably significant role in Ireland’s history over the last century, but as an organisation has had a very complicated journey. Principally formed during the First World War from Irish soldiers who did not want to fight in the British army, the original Irish Republican Army was a military operation to its core, dedicated to winning Irish independence. When Irish independence finally was gained however in 1922 the organisation suffered a split, with half unhappy with the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended the Irish War of Independence and made provisions for the division of Ireland.
After a period of relative stability in Ireland, the end of the 1960’s marked the beginning of the troubles in Ireland, a period characterised by fear and violence. The IRA, despite being split into two factions – the ‘official’ and the ‘provisional’ – held a tight grip over the north and showed merciless violence to those who to them represented British rule, namely soldiers and police officers. The period was marked by bomb attacks and guerrilla warfare, creating a crippled Northern Ireland which today is still attempting to recover.
The Peace Process in Northern Ireland culminated in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which brought about an official end to the troubles through an agreement of disarmament and an acknowledgement of the wishes of the majority of Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
The last century in Ireland has been turbulent undoubtedly and unsurprisingly the aftershock is still felt today. As would be expected, modern Irish politics is marked by the IRA’s activity, although more surprising is the role still played today by figures such as Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, Ireland’s republican political party (translated from Gaelic as ‘ourselves’). Adams was president of the party, often considered the political arm of the IRA, from the latter part of the troubles, and to this day there is controversy surrounding his potential involvement in more violent IRA activity.
Despite the call for peace throughout Ireland there are still seemingly isolated instances of violence today. As recently as 2011 attacks have been carried out on police officers and citizens alike, ensuring that the struggle of the last hundred years is not forgotten. Splinter groups unhappy with peaceful resolution continue to make threats and attempts to reignite the past, but it seems that now, at last, Ireland might be starting to put its blood stained past aside and achieve a more peaceful future, leaving behind the remnants of the IRA and those who are still willing to open old wounds.