Irish National Liberation Army

Irish National Liberation Army

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA; "Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann" in Irish) is an Irish Republican, left-wing paramilitary organisation which was formed on 8 December, 1974.

Sharing a common Marxist ideology with the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (a political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), was formed the same day). It enjoyed its peak of influence in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is now one of a number of small armed republican groups in Ireland. In its earliest days, the INLA was known as the People's Liberation Army (PLA). During the PLA period, the group's purpose was primarily to protect IRSP members from attacks by the Official Irish Republican Army (Official IRA).

The INLA is an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland where it is classified as such under the Offences against the State Act 1939. A suppression order was issued by the Irish government in 1983 which proscribed the organisation. [ [ THE OFFENCES AGAINST THE STATE ACTS, 1939 - 1998] ] The United Kingdom has proscribed the INLA under anti-terrorism legislation. [ Home Office - Proscribed Terror Groups] — Home Office website, retrieved 05 August 2008]


The founders of the INLA were Seamus Costello and other activists who had left or been forced out of the Official IRA in the wake of the OIRA's 1972 ceasefire and the increasingly reformist approach of Official Sinn Féin. Costello espoused a mixture of traditional Republican militarism and Marxist-oriented politics. Shortly after it was founded, the INLA came under attack from their former comrades in the OIRA, who wanted to destroy the new grouping before it could get off the ground.

On 20 February 1975, Hugh Ferguson, an INLA member and an IRSP branch chairperson, was the first person to be killed in the feud. One of the first military operations of the INLA was the killing of Billy McMillen, a leading OIRA member in Belfast and this was followed by several more assassinations on both sides, the most prominent victim being Seamus Costello, who was shot dead on North Strand Road in Dublin on 6 October 1977. Costello's death was a severe blow to the INLA, as he was their most able political and military leader. It has also recently been claimed by some in the Republican Socialist Movement that one of their members killed in 1975, Brendan McNamee, was actually killed by Provisional Irish Republican Army members. The Officials had denied involvement at the time of the killing and had instead blamed it on the Provisionals (Provos) who also denied involvement. [cite book | last = Holland, Jack & McDonald, Henry | first = | authorlink = | title = INLA Deadly Divisions | publisher = Poolbeg | date = 1996 | pages = p. 125-26 | doi = | isbn = 1-85371-263-9] This has not however been confirmed by the IRSP officially.

Armed campaign

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the INLA developed a modest organisation in the north of Ireland, particularly based around Divis Flats in West Belfast, which as a result became colloquially known as, "the planet of the Irps" (a reference to the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the film "Planet of the Apes"). During this period, the INLA competed with the Provisional Irish Republican Army for members, both groups attacking the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The first action to bring the INLA to international notice was its assassination on 30 March 1979 of Airey Neave, one of Margaret Thatcher’s closest political supporters.

The INLA lost another of its founding leadership in 1980, when Ronnie Bunting a Protestant Republican, was assassinated at his home by the Ulster Defence Association. Noel Lyttle, who was also a Protestant member of INLA, was killed at the same time. Another leading INLA member, Miriam Daly, was killed in the same year. The INLA claimed the SAS was involved in the killings of Bunting and Lyttle. Offensive INLA actions at this time included the 1982 bombing of the Mount Gabriel radar station in County Cork, which was providing assistance to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, allegedly in violation of Irish neutrality; and the 6 December 1982 Ballykelly disco bombing of the Droppin' Well Bar in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, which catered to British military personnel, in which 11 soldiers and 6 civilians were killed. It emerged later at the trial that INLA members from Derry City had carried out several reconnaissance missions "to see if there were enough soldiers to justify the possibility of civilian killings".fact|date=April 2008

Members of the INLA participated in the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes for the recognition of the political status of paramilitary prisoners. Three INLA members died during the latter hunger strike - Patsy O'Hara, Kevin Lynch, and Michael Devine, along with seven Provisional IRA members who also died.

On 20 November 1983, three members of the congregation in the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church, Darkley near Keady, County Armagh were shot dead during a Sunday service. The attack was claimed by the Catholic Reaction Force, a cover name for a small group of people, including one member of the INLA. The weapon used came from an INLA arms dump, but Tim Pat Coogan claims in his book "The IRA" that the weapon had been given to the INLA member to assassinate a known loyalist and the attack on the church was not sanctioned. The INLA's then chief of staff, Dominic McGlinchey, came out of hiding to condemn the attack.

Feuds and splits

In the 1980s, the INLA all but collapsed due to splits and criminality within its own ranks, as well as the conviction of many of its members under the British supergrass scheme. In 1987, the INLA and its political wing, the IRSP came under attack from the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO), an organisation founded by people who had resigned or been expelled from the INLA. The IPLO's initial aim was to destroy the INLA and replace it with their organisation. Five members of the INLA were killed by the IPLO. After the INLA killed the IPLO's leader, Gerard Steenson, a truce was reached. Although severely damaged by the IPLO's attacks, the INLA continued to exist. The IPLO, which was heavily involved in drug dealing, was put out of existence by the Provisional IRA in the early 1990s.

In 1995, four members of the INLA, including chief of staff Hugh Torney, were arrested by Gardaí in Balbriggan while trying to smuggle weapons from Dublin to Belfast. Torney, with the support of two of his co-accused, called a ceasefire in exchange for favourable treatment by the Irish authorities. Since Torney, who was chief of staff, under the INLA's rules lacked the authority to call a ceasefire, he and the two men who supported him were expelled from the INLA.

Torney and one of those men, Dessie McCleery, and founder member John Fennell were not going to surrender the leadership of the organisation. Their faction, known as the INLA/GHQ, assassinated the new INLA chief of staff, Gino Gallagher. After the INLA killed both McCleery and Torney in 1996, the rest of Torney's faction quietly disbanded.

Killing of Billy Wright

In December 1997, three members of the INLA imprisoned in Long Kesh assassinated Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, also known as "King Rat." The killing led to a series of retaliatory Loyalist attacks on Catholics. The INLA in turn responded with the shooting dead of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leader Jim Guiney. This spate of killings temporarily threw the Northern Ireland Peace Process into crisis.

One of the INLA killers, John Kenneway, has since seemed to have taken his own life and was found dead in his cell in Maghaberry Prison at 1855 BST, on Friday 8 June 2007 [ [ BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Wright killer found dead in cell ] ]


The INLA declared a ceasefire on 22 August, 1998. When calling its ceasefire, the INLA acknowledged the 'faults and grievous errors in our prosecution of the war'. The INLA admitted that innocent people had been killed and injured 'and at times our actions as a liberation army fell far short of what they should have been'. The INLA went on to accept the massive vote in favour of the Good Friday Agreement - an arrangement it had opposed during the 1998 referendum - by the people of Ireland.

'The will of the Irish people is clear. It is now time to silence the guns and allow the working classes the time and the opportunity to advance their demands and their needs.' [ [,,200299,00.html Terrorists reach the crossroads | UK news | The Observer ] ]

Although the INLA does not support the Good Friday Agreement, it does not call for a return to armed struggle on behalf of republicans either. An INLA statement released in 1999 declared, "we do not see a return to armed struggle as a viable option at the present time" [ [ INLA Statement on 5th Anniversary of INLA Ceasefire ] ]

Post ceasefire activities

The INLA maintains a presence in parts of Northern Ireland and has carried out punishment beatings on local alleged petty criminals. [INLA statement of 2004, claiming responsibility for a punishment attack]

The Independent Monitoring Commission, which monitors paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, claimed in a November 2004 report that the INLA was heavily involved in criminality. In 1997, an INLA man named John Morris was shot dead by Gardaí (Irish Police) in Dublin during the attempted robbery of a newspaper distributor's depot in Inchicore. Three other INLA members were arrested in the incident [ [ Fallen Comrades of the IRSM ] ] . In 1999, the INLA in Dublin became involved in a feud with a criminal gang in the west of the city. After a young INLA man named Patrick Campbell was killed by drug dealers, the INLA carried out several shootings in reprisal, including at least one killing. Irish journalist Paul Williams has also claimed the INLA, especially in Dublin, is now primarily a front for organised crime. The IRSP and INLA deny these allegations, arguing that no one has been simultaneously convicted of membership in the INLA and of drug offences. The IRSP and the INLA have both strongly denied any involvement with drug dealing, stating that the INLA has threatened criminals which it claims have falsely used its name.

In 2006, the INLA claimed to have put at least two drugs gangs out of business in Northern Ireland. After their raid on a criminal organisation based in the north-west, they released a statement saying that "the Irish National Liberation Army will not allow the working class people of this city to be used as cannon fodder by these criminals whose only concern is profit by whatever means available to them." [ [ Belfast Telegraph, 31 March 2006] ] [ [] ]

The October 2006 Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report stated that the INLA "was not capable of undertaking a sustained campaign [against the United Kingdom] , nor does it aspire to". [ [ IMC October 2006 Report, section 2.11, HMSO.] ]

In December 2007, disturbances broke out at an INLA parade in the Bogside in Derry between watchers and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers attempting to arrest four of the marchers. []

In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Independent Monitoring Commission reports the INLA were said to have remained a threat and could well be more dangerous in the future, although in the meantime it was largely a criminal enterprise. In the same vein they committed the murder of Brian McGlynn on 3 June 2007 during the span of the former's report. This murder was said to have occurred because the victim used the INLA name in the drug trade. [ [ IMC May 2008 Report] ] [ [ IMC November 2007 Report.] ] Furthermore, the INLA and CIRA are noted to have cooperated.

Deaths caused by INLA activities

According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster's CAIN project, [ [ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths - crosstabulations ] ] the INLA was responsible for 113 deaths during the Troubles. Among its victims were 46 members of the British security forces, 42 civilians, 2 members of the Garda Síochána, 7 loyalist paramilitaries and 16 republican paramilitaries (including 10 of its own members).

According to the INLA's Roll of Honour, the organisation has lost 33 of its members killed in the Northern Ireland conflict. [ [ Irish Republican Socialist Roll of Honour ] ]

In Culture

The main character of Martin McDonagh's play, "The Lieutenant of Inishmore", is the leader of a cell of the INLA.



*Jack Holland, Henry McDonald, "INLA - Deadly Divisions"
*CAIN project []
*Coogan, Tim Pat, "The IRA", Fontana Books, ISBN 0-00-636943-X
*The Starry Plough - IRSP newspaper, online at

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