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The influence of informers and agents on provisional Irish republican army military strategy and British counter-insurgency strategy, 1976-94

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-146
Number of pages25
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015

King's Authors


This article investigates the impact of British informers and agents on Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) military strategy and British counter-insurgency strategy in Northern Ireland between 1976 and 1994. The importance of this topic was highlighted by revelations in 2003 and 2005 concerning two senior republicans who had both been working for British intelligence for decades. While acknowledging other important factors, various authors believe that these intelligence successes were vital in containing the IRA, and significantly influenced that organization to end its military campaign in the 1990s. Yet after cross-referencing new interview material primarily with memoirs from various participants in the Northern Ireland conflict, this article reveals that the nature of many rural IRA units, its cellular structure in Belfast, and the isolation of the IRA leadership from the rest of the movement, prevented it from being damaged to any considerable extent by informers and agents. In fact, by the 1990s the resilience of the IRA was a crucial factor encouraging the British government to include Provisional Republicans in a political settlement. The IRA's military strength by the 1990s also points towards the prominence of political factors in persuading the IRA to call a ceasefire by 1994. The role of spies in Northern Ireland and the circumstances in which the state permitted negotiations with paramilitaries such as the IRA, are key considerations for those interested in other recent and current conflicts.

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