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Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Introduction & Overview

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) was a Republican Socialist paramilitary organisation which operated mainly in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. It is the military wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, both of which were founded in 1974 by former members of the Official IRA. The INLA formally ended its armed campaign in 1999 but remains active on a smaller scale. The group’s primary objective was a full British withdrawal from Ireland and the establishment of a united Ireland socialist republic.

History & Foundations

During the 1960s, the Dublin led IRA became a more socialist organisation, less focused on militant nationalism and more on class struggle. However, with the escalation and spread of violence in 1969, they split into the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA, who were more northern based and more eager to take up arms. Dragged into an armed campaign against the will of its leadership and after carrying out a number of widely condemned attacks, the officials called a ceasefire in 1972 (1). A number of 'Stickies' (the colloquial nickname for the Official IRA volunteers) were unhappy with the ceasefire and with the fact that, by then, the conservative Provisionals had become the mainstream in Irish Republicanism, pulling the mainstream Republican movement in Ireland away from socialism and towards nationalism.

After a series of arguments and court-martials, a splinter organisation was created in 1974; it was led by the experienced volunteer and ardent socialist, Seamus Costello, who instantly took up the positions of Chairman of the IRSP and Chief of Staff of the INLA. Thereby, the INLA was born as a splinter of a splinter (2).

Ideology & Objectives

The disagreement on the armed campaign stemmed from a fundamentally ideological dispute. The Stickies had taken a Stalinist approach to socialist struggle, believing that Protestant and Catholic workers would have to unite before having a chance at victory. Costello, and thus the INLA, advocated for a broad front of militant republicanism and socialism in Ireland. Costello believed that a militant campaign alone would never defeat the British army, and that the fusion of militant activism and widespread public agitation was the only way to fulfil their goals. It was the desire for a broad front in Ireland which led the INLA to lead a number of meetings between the INLA, Provisionals and the Communist Party of Ireland in 1977.

While progress was slow, it seemed that the leadership of the Provisionals was open to the idea, on the condition that all parties involved publicly supported the armed campaign in the North. The CPI argued the opposite, refusing to join until the Provisionals announced a ceasefire (as they feared losing Protestant members if they were to associate with the Provisionals) (3). Today, the IRSP – the political wing of the INLA – is still active in local politics. They supported Brexit and wished for an Irish withdrawal from the EU, with the slogan “Britain out of Ireland. Ireland out of the EU” (4). The IRSP is also staunchly anti-NATO, posting several messages of support for the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists, including one on February 25th, 2022. They also staged a pro-Russian protest in Dublin, which authorities believe to have been supported by the Russian government (5).

Political & Military Abilities

The IRSP is not strictly abstentionist, and IRSP members have campaigned for elections to councils, assemblies and trade unions in the both jurisdictions of Ireland, with Costello himself being elected to councils in the Republic in 1966. In Belfast, the IRSP contested city council elections in 1981 and won two seats, although both councillors were on the run from authorities before their term was finished (6). The IRSP did not contest any more elections until 2011, when they put 5 candidates forward. One was originally elected, but on a recount lost by less than 1% (7). Another attempt in 2022 won no seats (8).

Militarily, the INLA was never able to compete with the Provisionals. Most estimates at the membership of the INLA are at a couple of dozen active members, with connections abroad (9). However, some claim the organisation had as many as 100 active members, with 300 in the IRSP (10). The Republican movement has traditionally struggled with arms acquisition, and it was no different for the INLA. By the time the INLA agreed to decommissioning their weapons, it was estimated that they held a small stockpile of rifles, handguns, hand grenades and commercial explosives (11). There is evidence that the INLA possessed and used a wide variety of weapons, including assault rifles and submachine guns, often stolen in one way or another from security forces or rival Republicans (12). They have also been seen using AK pattern rifles as late as 2019 when firing shots over the funeral of a volunteer (13). Most of their weapons supposedly originated from the Middle East (14).

Approach to Resistance

Their low numbers, both in terms of active volunteers and arms, did not stop the INLA from being extremely violent. The organisation is estimated to have killed 125 people during the Troubles, including 45 members of security forces. Around 20 of their own volunteers were killed during the conflict (15). The INLA, constantly aiming to “outgun” the ‘Provos’, were responsible for some of the most publicised actions of the conflict (16). Their most successful operations included the assassination of Airey Neave, a close ally of Margaret Thatcher’s in 1979, when a bomb under his car exploded as he left the car park of the Palace of Westminster (17).

In 1999, they shot Billy “King Rat” Wright dead in Long Kesh prison (18). In addition, 3 members of the INLA died during the famous hunger strikes of 1981 (19). They were also responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed, including the Droppin Well bomb in 1982 (20) and the 1983 Darkley Killings (21). The group is infamous for its internal feuds (22)(23) and links to criminality (24). In fact, its birth instigated a violent feud in which the Stickies attempted to maintain control over Republican Socialism by crushing the INLA (25). Since the conflict has ended, the INLA is alleged to be continuously involved in criminality, most notably the taxation of drug dealers in nationalist majority areas (26). They have been accused of committing a host of murders since the end of the conflict, mostly due to drug dealers refusing to pay their demands (27).

Works Cited (Alphabetised Chicago-style)

AP News. ‘IRA Offshoot Says It Killed Two Former Members In Feud’. AP NEWS, 1987.

BBC. ‘1972: Official IRA Declares Ceasefire’, 30 May 1972.

BBC. ‘Droppin’ Well Bombing: Atrocity Remembered 30 Years On’. BBC News, 6 December 2012, sec. Foyle & West.

BBC. ‘Who Are the INLA?’ BBC News, 14 September 2010, sec. Northern Ireland.

Black, Rebecca. ‘239 Candidates Confirmed for Stormont Assembly Election’. Belfasttelegraph, 2022.

Breen, Suzanne. ‘Loyalists Will Pay Ultimate Price for Attacks on Nationalists, Warns INLA’. The Irish Times, 1997.

Browne, Vincent. ‘Inside the INLA | Magill’, 1985.

Cusack, Jim. ‘Church Atrocity Gunman at Head of Terror Faction’. Independent, 2009.

Esler, Gavin. ‘Marxist Rebels or Mad Gunmen?’ Fortnight, no. 195 (1983): 7–15.


Irish Republican Socialist Party. (2018) BRITIAN OUT OF IRELAND. IRELAND OUT OF THE EU. Ireland.

Iskra. ‘IRSP Local Council Election Results | Republican Socialist News’, 2 November 2011.

ITV News. ‘Nine Arrested in Cross-Border Probe into INLA Criminality in Derry’. ITV News, 10 June 2021, sec. utv.

Krause, Peter. ‘The Irish National Movement: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit’. In Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight, and Win, edited by Peter Krause, 0. Cornell University Press, 2017.

Melaugh, Martin. ‘CAIN: Abstracts of Organisations - “I”’. CAIN. Accessed 22 November 2022.

Melaugh, Martin. ‘CAIN: Events: Hunger Strike 1981 - List of Dead’. CAIN. Accessed 22 November 2022.

Melaugh, Martin. ‘CAIN: Issues - Paramilitary Feuds - List of Those Killed as a Result of Paramilitary Feuds’, 2022.

McDonald, H., and J. Holland. I.N.L.A - Deadly Divisions. Dublin: Poolbeg Press Ltd, 2016.

Mooney, John. ‘Kremlin “Staged Ukraine Protest in Dublin with Republicans”’, 2022, sec. ireland.

Morris, Allison. ‘Airey Neave Murder Was a “propaganda Coup” for INLA but There Was No Collusion Says Historian’. The Irish News, 30 March 2019.

Morris, Allison. ‘Gun Used at INLA Funeral Featured in BBC Stacey Dooley Documentary’. The Irish News, 23 May 2019.

O’Neill, Ciaran. ‘Cross-Border Probe Finds INLA Still Heavily Involved in Drugs, Blackmail, and Cash Crimes’. Independent, 2021.

Sunday Life reporter. ‘Sean Fox Murder: Dealers Told to Cough up £10k to Violent INLA Faction or Die’. Belfasttelegraph. Accessed 22 November 2022.


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