Violence has always been a part of Ireland; as the authors of Making Sense of the Troubles write, “Ireland was born in violence."1 As the conflict escalated and became more complex so did the violence. As a result, the IRA resorted to bombings as a scare tactic, intending to send a non-casualty message to the British government that the people of Ireland had enough of British rule. The IRA began their bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland targeting different British military outposts and convoys. In 1973, the bombing campaign expanded to England where the IRA gained international attention. Moving to England made the IRA bombing more personal for the British people and the government, for the simple reason that the violence was brought to their doorstep. In order to reduce casualties, the IRA would warn British police to clear and evacuate buildings and the surrounding area of the target. Most of the instances in which casualties were high resulted from when bombs malfunctioned and were detonated prematurely.
Note: There are many different splinter cells that have emerged from the IRA, such as the Real IRA (RIRA) and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Both of these splinter groups use more guerrilla fighting tactics and have claimed responsibility for many of the bombings throughout the troubles.
Bombing campaigns of the IRA is one of their most extreme actions. There is much controversy into whether or not the actions for the IRA are justified. Regardless of whether the IRA considers their actions just or not there is no way of getting around the fact that they fit the category of terrorism In The Psychology of Peace terrorism is described as a "nongovernmental but well defined organizations whose fear -causing violence is motivated by political or religious policy goals, not simple greed"2. The IRA bombing campaigns fit this description of terrorism: by setting off bombs in crowded areas, the IRA causes fear in the British public. The goal of the IRA bombings is to achieve political goals, particularly Ireland’s emancipation from British rule.
The IRA members used a psychological term referred to as doubling Doubling is when people are put in extreme situations they create two identities, one that does the killing and the other a good family man. IRA members were considered to be killers while participating in violence by setting off bombs or protecting barricades. When IRA members were not participating they were with their families, returning to normal lives and rying to protect loved once. When IRA members set off bombs they were doing it to get Britain's attention and were not thinking about the innocent lives that may be endangered by their extreme actions.
Another Psychological aspect that is related to the IRA bombings is the effects of violence on nonparticipants. Most of the bombings that happened in England were done in public areas full of innocent bystanders. Seeing a traumatic event such as a bombing will affect the people seeing the event in many different ways. According to Psychology of Peace, there is a wide range of ways that an individual will deal with witnessing an event such as: showing sings of denial and social referencing. Social referencing is when people take “cues from the reaction of others to determine whether something should be reacted to as an emergency or not.”3 In the case of IRA bombings a sense of panic and stress was the overwhelming reaction that the nonparticipants felt.
The Appeal of War makes war and fighting sound more attractive to people who would normally be against violence.4 Nonviolent terminology is used to entice people to join the cause. Making people feel as if they are part of a group, as if their life has a purpose. “Redirecting anxieties toward a more comfortable target.”5 and “anxiety of uncertainty vanishes when war hysteria arrives”6 are both examples of the appeal of war. The IRA uses posters and flyers to spread their message reaching out to individuals who are angry and confused about the situation in their country. These individuals have the opportunity to join an organization that gives them a voice and the tools to fight.
"There can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically." — Bobby Sands7
Major Bombings in depth:
In 1973 there was a bombing of King Cross in London, England. This bombing incident consisted of two different explosions. The first explosion injured 5 people. The second explosion occurred about an hour after the first one injured 8 people. The bomb that was used was a 2-3 pound bomb, which is a trademark of the IRA. There was a call that was placed to Scotland Yard warning people of the bomb and when it would be detonated. Witnesses of the explosion were in awe of just how much damage and loss of life there was due to the bombing.
Flowers placed on the gates of King Cross.8
An IRA bombing occurred at the London Hilton on September 5, 1975. This bombing killed 2 people and injured 63. The IRA notified the police that a bomb would be detonated with in 10 minutes. People staying at the hotel said the police came to evacuate the hotel 5 minutes before the bomb was detonated. This was the first in a series of different bomb threats that were called into the police.9 The police had a hard time telling what calls were legitimate threats and which were hoaxes. The IRA tried to create a state of panic through multiple bomb threats. Every call needed to be taken seriously. As a Metropolitan Police commander put it, “No call can be taken casually.”10
London Hilton Bombing11
On August 27, 1979, there was a 700 kg fertilizer car bomb in Warrenpoint near the Northern Ireland border. The bomb was targeted at a British convoy carrying supplies and troops. 18 British troops were killed in the explosion.12 The IRA studied how the British were moving supplies to and from Northern Ireland for weeks. After studying the route the IRA decided to use two bombs on the road to ensure that the convoy was fully destroyed.13 This bombing sent a very clear message back to the British government.
The bombing of Canary Wharf in London, England occurred in February 1996. It was a massive attack, killing two people and injuring 39 people. This was an important bombing because it ended the 17-month ceasefire between Britain and Ireland. It was a half-ton bomb that was placed 80 yards away from the South Quay train station. The IRA said that it was the British police's fault for any of the causalities that occurred from the bombing. The IRA claims that if the police had acted quicker, then there would have been no deaths or causalities.15 The Police Chief of London said, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”16 Reports claimed that there was an hour warning given to police before the bomb was detonated. There was £85 million worth of damage from the bomb explosion.17
Canary Wharf Train Station.18
The Omagh bombing happened Saturday, August 15, 1998 in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A car bomb was detonated, killing 29 and injuring hundreds more. The attack was perpetrated by the Real IRA. This was a devastating attack that was a shock to most of Europe. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that it was an “appalling act of savagery and evil"19. Martin McGuinness, the leader of Sinn Féin, said that, "This appalling act was carried out by those opposed to the peace process."20. Both British and Irish sides condemned the bombing. Everyone who witnessed the bombing saw the impact that it made, but knew that it would not end the Troubles in Northern Ireland any faster. The bomb was detonated in a crowded shopping area of Omagh. The bombing was being described as, “the worst since violence began in Northern Ireland 30 years ago”21. Sinn Fein condemned the bombing. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein party chief made the statement, “This appalling act was carried out by those opposed to the peace process.” Again both sides of the argument felt that the bombings did not further the process of obtaining a free Ireland, if anything it may have pushed them back a few steps.22
In 2009 the Northern Ireland Courts found the Real IRA liable for the Omagh bombing in 1998. Four high ranking members of the Real IRA were found liable for1.6 million pounds in damages.23 The money paid to courts would go to families that lost their loved ones in the bombing. Victor Barker’s son was killed in the bombing and he stated that “I am absolutely delighted that at long last we have got some justice for the Omagh families.”24 This is a big win for the 12 families who were involved in this court case. Although justice finally has been served, it still does not bring back the lives that were lost at one of the worst bombings in Ireland.25
The Aftermath of the Omagh bombing.26