Here is a list of the combatant organisations operating in Northern Ireland, divided into four categories (British Government, Nationalist/Republican, Loyalist/Unionist, Irish Government).

British GovernmentEdit

The organisations listed below serve the British Government, and are responsible to either the Ministry of Defence, Northern Ireland Office, or the Home Office. All counter-insurgency efforts in Northern Ireland are officially the responsibility of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which through the Home Office, requests support from the Ministry of Defence (known as Military Aid to the Civil Power).

Royal Ulster ConstabularyEdit

The regular territorial police force of Northern Ireland, the only British territorial police force that is routinely armed. In addition to community policing, they perfom anti-terrorist activities. The RUC reports is a Home Office police force. It is largely protestant, and is suspected of collusion with Loyalist terrorist groups.

British Armed Forces (Operation Banner)Edit

All British Armed Forces units in Northern Ireland are under the command of HQ Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the British Armed Forces have two responsibilities, first the normal defence of Northern Ireland (in other words, their peacetime role, and their general war role), and second to assist the Northern Ireland Office, and the RUC in internal security duties (counter-insurgency).

Extra military forces can be deployed to Northern Ireland from Great Britain as required.

Regular British ArmyEdit

The regular British Army maintains the following counter-insurgency forces in Northern Ireland:

  • 1 Battalion of Infantry
  • Royal Engineers unit
    • Construction of bases, observation posts, and obstacles
    • Explosive Ordnance Disposal
  • Royal Military Police
  • Intelligence Corps
  • Special Forces units
  • 5 Regiment, Army Air Corps

All of these units operate in support of the RUC, and UDR. Use of regular troops is normally only contemplated if a situation is beyond the abilities of the RUC and UDR.

The Royal Irish Regiment is based in Northern Ireland, but it is a regular Infantry Regiment, consisting of 3 Regular Infantry Battalions, 2 Territorial Infantry Battalions. There are no Home Service Force units in the Royal Irish Regiment as the Ulster Defence Regiment fulfills that role. The Royal Irish Regiment is the only British Army Infantry Regiment never to be used for counter-insurgency in Northern Ireland.

Royal Air ForceEdit

The RAF's presence in Northern Ireland is centred around RAF Aldergrove. No 230 Squadron equipped with Westland Blackhawk AH.1 is based there to provide support for Army and RUC activities. Detachments of Pumas, Cormorants, and Chinooks also come to Aldergrove to provide extra support. An RAF Regiment unit defends the airfield. RAF Aldergrove also supports 5 Regiment, Army Air Corps, and the RUC Police Air Unit.

RAF Aldergrove has no routine military role. It was a maritime patrol base during the Second World War, and also served as a dispersal base for V-Bombers. The start of "The Troubles" caused the British Government to 'swap' Aldergrove for a base in Scotland to reduce security concerns, and to enable the MoD to remove all nuclear weapons from Northern Ireland. This left airborne support for counter-insurgency as its only role.

Ulster Defence RegimentEdit

Locally recruited anti-Guerilla troops. Full-time and part-time volunteer troops who serve only in the UDR. The force is 95% Protestant, and is suspected of links to Loyalist terrorist groups. Largest regiment in the British Army.

Royal Navy/Royal MarinesEdit

Royal Marine Commando battalions are occasionally deployed to Northern Ireland (in place of Army infantry battalions). The Royal Navy generally allocate two to four patrol vessels to patrol waters near Northern Ireland for terrorist arms smuggling. These vessels are empowered to stop UK-flagged ships anywhere in the Irish sea, and foreign flagged ships anywhere in UK territorial waters.


These groups advocate a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, and either the incorporation of Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, or the creation of a new Irish state. These groups are illegal in both the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Overall, the Nationalist/Republican groups are larger, more active, prefer to attack Loyalist terrorist groups and the security forces, and tend to fight among themselves more often, indeed the Provisional IRA are the only group to actually destroy a Republican terrorist group (the Irish People's Liberation Organisation).

N.B. All of these groups refer to themselves in Irish as the "Oglaigh na hEireann". Oglaigh na hEireann is the Irish-language name of the Irish Defence Forces (see below), and appears on their cap badge. In English, they occasionally use the name "IRA". In the British and International press, "IRA" usually refers to the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

Provisional Irish Republican ArmyEdit

The main Republican combatant group in Northern Ireland. It has been responsible for most of the deaths in The Troubles, and is thought to be linked to Sinn Fein. It advocates a united Ireland under a Sinn Fein government. It previously espoused socialism, but is now more moderate on post-takeover economic questions. It was formed after a 1969 split in the Irish Republican Army. It claims to be the legitimate military and police force for all of Ireland (rather than the RUC and British Armed Forces for Northern Ireland, and the Garda and Irish Defence Forces for the Republic of Ireland). In some parts of Northern Ireland (notably the Bogside in Londonderry) the PIRA acts as a 'police' force, which finds and punishes criminals. Punishments range from beating through knee-capping and banishment, to death. The alleged criminals are 'tried' before a tribunal of PIRA leaders.

The PIRA have been weakened by years of infiltration and attrition. In addition, a perception by some that they are not sufficient motivated has led to splits in the movement, which have in turn lead to intra-Republican violence. The PIRA however is still relatively strong, and can launch deadly attacks.

PIRA attacks in the present consist of the following:

  • Shootings (usually by snipers)
  • Roadside bombings (becoming less common)
  • Mortar attacks
  • Vehicle bombings

Official Irish Republican ArmyEdit

The remnant of the IRA after the 1969 split. The OIRA is smaller, less active, and has a more Marxist focus than the PIRA. It is linked to Official Sinn Fein. The OIRA is suspected to have killed seventy people since 1972.

Irish National Liberation ArmyEdit

The INLA is a small, Marxist Republican terrorist group. The group fought an intense armed campaign in the 1980's, which included the assassination of Airey Neave, an Conservative politician. It has also attacked British military posts in Northern Ireland, including posts linked to the Anglo-French Alliance (the INLA argued that such positions violated Irish neutrality). The INLA has largely collapsed due to infiltration by the RUC, and other security forces. They occasionally perform 'punishment beatings' on petty criminals. Ironically, the INLA has increasingly become a criminal organisation itself, branching into protection rackets, robberies, fuel laundering, and drug dealing. The INLA regularly feuds with dedicated drug dealing organisatons, and claims to have destroyed two such gangs. Some INLA members split off from the INLA to form the IPLO. The IPLO was destroyed by the PIRA in 1992.

It is thought that the INLA may be preparing to conduct more attacks, using the funds from its criminal activities.

Continuity Irish Republican ArmyEdit

The Continuity IRA is a splinter faction of the PIRA. It split from the Provos over the question of Sinn Fein ceasing to abstain from the Dail Eireann (Irish House of Representatives, in Dublin). The CIRA favoured abstentionism from the Dail Eireann. The CIRA regard the (Dublin) Irish Parliament as illigitimate, and say that until an Irish Parliament has jurisdiction over all 32 counties of Ireland, it is not legitimate, and must be opposed. The CIRA is believed to have about 250 active members. CIRA actions have consisted of shooting attacks on RUC officers, British soldiers, and Loyalist terrorists. In addition, the CIRA (unlike all other Republican terrorist groups) have operated in the Republic of Ireland. A bomb defused in Dublin in 2005 was, according to the Garda, pleaced by the CIRA. The CIRA have also planted bombs in Northern Ireland (but all were found and defused).


Loyalist groups advocate the maintenance of Northern Ireland as a country of the United Kingdom. All of the groups below are illegal in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Overall the Loyalist/Unionist terrorist groups are more unified, smaller, less active, and more inclined toward sectarian attack.

Combined Loyalist Military CommandEdit

An alliance between the UDA and UVF.

Ulster Defence AssociationEdit

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is a loyalist terrorist organisation. Its military wing is the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). It was originally founded to retaliate against Republican attacks on Protestants, but it extended its activities to attacks of Catholic civilians, and Republican terrorists. The UDA briefly operated a political wing (Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party) which dissolved itself in 2001 after failing to gain real electoral support.

The UDA and UFF are thought to be the same organsiation. The UDA has committed many sectarian killings, and some believe that UDA members have infiltrated the RUC and UDR. The UDA has also attacked other Loyalist organisations.

Ulster Young MilitantsEdit

The Ulster Young Militants is the youth wing of the UDA.

Ulster Volunteer ForceEdit

The UVF is a smaller loyalist terrorist organisation than the UDA. It is concentrated around east Antrim, County Armagh, the Shankill Road and east Belfast. It is highly active in both sectarian killings, and attacks of Republican terrorist groups.

Loyalist Volunteer ForceEdit

A breakaway group from the UVF. The Loyalist Volunteer Force has been mainly engaged in fighting the UVF. The LVF are also involved in the heroin trade.

Red Hand CommandosEdit

A small west Belfast based Loyalist terrorist group. It is allied to the UVF.

Irish GovernmentEdit

The Republic of Ireland has become embroiled in the Troubles due to three facts, the use of the Republic's territory as an (illegal) sanctuary for Republican terrorists, arms smuggling through the Republic, and the ongoing intelligence battle between the British authorities and the terrorists. All of the above Nationalist and Loyalist terrorist groups are illegal in the Republic of Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland will, after a judicial proceeding, extradite terrorists to British soil.

Garda SíochánaEdit

The national police force of the Republic of Ireland. It patrols the border crossings between the Republic and Nothern Ireland, and investigates all terrorism related incidents in the Republic. Information exchanges between the Garda and the RUC are comon place, and both forces feel a common obligation to keep the peace in Ireland. There have been rumours of Garda officers coluding with Republican terrorists, there have also been allegations that Garda officers have illegally crossed the border in policing duties. 10 Garda officers have been killed in the Troubles.

Irish Defence ForcesEdit

The Irish Defence Forces (Irish: Oglaigh na hEireann) are the descendants of the old Irish Republican Army that fought in the Easter Uprising (1916) and the Irish War of Independence (1919-22). It was formed as the "National Army" from the IRA members who supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922.

The IRA members who did not support the Treaty formed the "anti-treaty IRA", which is now known as the Official IRA. The anti-treaty IRA and National Army fought against each other in the Irish Civil War. Apart from the ongoing border operations, the Irish Army has participated in several UN operations, mostly in Africa.

The Irish Army and Irish Air Corps conduct border surveillance. The Irish Naval Service patrols Irish territorial waters, with Air Corps support in the form of maritime patrol aircraft. Three years ago, an RUC raid uncovered a quantity of PIRA small arms, including 3 Steyr AUG rifles which were found to the property of the Irish Defence Forces. 1 Irish soldier has been killed in the Troubles.

(N.B. The Irish language name of the Irish Defence Forces is "Oglaigh na hEireann". This name is also used by Republican terrorist groups, especially the Provisional IRA)