For a summary of the methodology used in the Killing by Numbers series please see- https://itsstillonlythursday.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/killing-by-numbers-part-1/
We will begin our re-analysis of The Troubles with a study of the republican armed groups, since they were responsible for most conflict related deaths.
In Part 3 we will deal with the smaller republican groupings but we will begin with the Provisional IRA, since they were by far the largest of such groupings and because they were also the organisation involved for the longest period of time, 1970-1998, whilst the Official IRA had all but abandoned violence by about 1975, the INLA only came into being in 1975 and the IPLO was formed only in 1985/86.
First we must ascertain who exactly the Provisional IRA regarded as “legitimate targets”. Something which is not as straightforward as one would assume.
Of course the Provisional movement regarded the Army, RUC and UDR as so-called “legitimate targets” but that particular list does not end there.
For as well as all serving soldiers and police, the Provos also regarded all former members of the Armed Forces (resident in Northern Ireland) and former police officers as legitimate targets too.
Add to that list all members of the judiciary, all serving and former members of the Prison Service, all members of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Conservative Party (at least after 1975), members of the Royal household and so-called “collaborators”, ie civilians employed in a clerical role, or as “searchers”, by the RUC and Army, those employed as cooks or cleaners in Army barracks and police stations, those who supplied foodstuffs and other goods/services to the Security Forces and those who built, maintained and repaired police stations, Army barracks and UDR bases.
In fact, the list of so-called “collaborators” was extended in the late 1980s to such a degree that even those who supplied building materials or sub-contracted to those involved in “Security work” were regarded as “legitimate targets” by PIRA/Sinn Fein.
We must also add to the list all members and former members of Loyalist paramilitary groups; the UDA/UFF, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
Therefore, the list of those regarded as “legitimate targets” by the Provisional IRA is a very extensive one. Indeed, it is the most extensive of all armed groups involved in The Troubles. It is also one made up mainly of ‘non combatants’. One can, at a stretch, see how an RUC Reservist might conceivably be classed as a combatant, however there is absolutely no way one can distort reality to such a degree that one could consider a Magistrate, a Member of Parliament or a grocer delivering fruit and vegetables to his local police station as “combatants”.
Now that we have ascertained who exactly the Provisionals thought of as “legitimate targets”, we must now attempt to ascertain just how many of these “legitimate targets” PIRA/SF actually killed?
There is a certain mythos regarding the Provos within the nationalist/republican community. They are viewed as an efficient, sophisticated and well organised group. Unfortunately for nationalists and republicans however, the facts do not support that view whatsoever.
How many legitimate targets were there?
Before we attempt to calculate the effectiveness of the Provisional IRA in targeting those they deemed as “legitimate targets” we must first ascertain how many of those “targets” there were.
We will begin with the British Army;
We know that during Operation Banner some 300,000 soldiers served in Northern Ireland. Operation Banner began in 1969 and ended only in mid 2007.
Exact troop numbers are impossible (as far as we can ascertain) to obtain for particular years, however, if we estimate that between August, 1969 and the beginning of 1970, the period at the start of the conflict before the PIRA were active, some 5,000 soldiers served in Ulster (and subsequently went on to other postings), and that between 1998 and 2007, the period after the Provisional IRA ceased ‘offensive actions’, that some 50,000 soldiers served in NI (this is a very high estimate given that troop numbers gradually decreased after 1998), then we arrive at a figure of some 55,000 soldiers who were not under threat of attack by the Provos.
Soldiers deployed in Ulster often went out on patrol without helmets, flak jackets etc
When we subtract that number from the total number of troops deployed here, we arrive at a figure of 245,000 Army personnel who were subject to PIRA/Sinn Fein attack and regarded by that group as “legitimate targets”.
However, we also have to add the approximate number of ex Armed Forces personnel resident in Northern Ireland to that number.
In this instance we will estimate that there were 3,000 such people. This is an almost implausibly low estimate but since we cannot ascertain a definite number we will err on the side of caution and go with this extremely low estimate.
Therefore we arrive at a number of 248,000 British soldiers, both serving personnel and former personnel resident in Northern Ireland, that were ‘available targets’ for the Provisional IRA.
Our research shows that the Provos killed 437 soldiers, 5 ex servicemen and 6 members of the Territorial Army. That is a total of 448.
448 = 0.18% of 248,000
So, out of 248,000 soldiers the Provisional IRA killed only 0.18%.
The R. U. C.
We know that during most of the conflict there were approximately 13,000 serving RUC officers. We must also estimate the number of former officers. If we assume that between 1970 and 1998 about 5,000 RUC officers left the force then we arrive at a total figure of 18,000 serving and former RUC personnel.
Again, 5,000 is a very low estimate given the number of people who served for only a few years either with the full-time RUC or the RUC Reserve but again, we will go with this low estimate since a higher estimate may lead to accusations of statistical bias.
We know that the Provisional IRA killed 257 RUC officers, of which 19 were former members of the Constabulary, that means that from a pool of 18,000 potential police targets, the Provos killed 257;
257 = 1.43% of 18,000
The U. D. R.
At it’s largest, the Ulster Defence Regiment had a membership of 11,000, both full and part-time soldiers. In 1992 the regiment consisted of 3,000 full-time and 3,000 part-time members. According to several sources, the regiment saw approximately 20,000 men and women pass through it’s ranks between 1970 and 1992 when it was amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers to form the Royal Irish Regiment.
For the purpose of this study we will regard the RIR and the UDR as one and the same. We will assume that the RIR was, at least between 1992 and 1998, made up exclusively of ex-UDR personnel and, therefore, will not add to the total number of UDR/RIR.
The Provisional IRA killed 228 UDR/RIR, including 61 former UDR soldiers.
228 = 1.14% of 20,000
The Prison Service
Exact numbers for Prison Service personnel are unavailable, therefore we must make a reasonable estimate. For most of the conflict, the Northern Ireland Prison Service operated 4 prisons- Armagh, Crumlin Road, Magilligan and Long Kesh, with Maghaberry replacing Armagh gaol in 1986.
Assuming that a prison of a reasonable size would require at least 300 staff (in order to operate several shifts) and that Long Kesh would probably require a larger staff of around 500, then we can estimate that the Prison Service would have had approximately 1400 staff at any given point.
We now have to estimate how many former Prison Service employees there were. I think that it is reasonable to assume that there would have been (during the years 1970-1998) at least 400 ex Prison Officers, giving us a total of 1800 serving and former Prison Service staff.
Long Kesh Prison.
Throughout ‘The Troubles’, the Provisional IRA killed 22 serving and former Prison Officers.
22 = 1.22% of 1800
Contractors to the Security Forces and other “collaborators”
This is another sub-group where exact numbers are impossible to obtain. I think it is reasonable to assume that perhaps 1,000 people were employed directly by the Security Forces, as clerks, cooks, searchers, cleaners etc.
Again this is a low estimate. Every Army or UDR base must have employed at least 10-20 civilians and, of course, they would not have been the same people from 1970 right through to the 1990s (except perhaps in a handful of cases). When we add in the number of civilian searchers, employed mainly in Belfast city centre, physically searching people coming in to the commercial heart of the city, then I think 1,000 is a reasonable estimate.
The number of contractors to the Security Forces is even more difficult to estimate. There were 4 main firms employed to build, maintain and repair Security Forces installations, let us assume that each employed 150 people (including sub-contractors), that gives us a figure of 600, however, we must remember that they would not have been the same 600 people in, for example, 1981 and in 1991.
Therefore, we must add to our previous total of 600. I think it would be fair to add around 200, since the turnover rate of employees within such firms was minimal, mainly because “security work” was steady work, something which is rare in the construction industry.
That gives us a total of 800 but we must also now add in all those who supplied goods to the Security Forces. How many people provided fuel, foodstuffs, dry cleaning services, building materials etc to the RUC, Army and UDR?
Here we are almost completely in the dark but, given the sheer size of the Security Forces apparatus in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, that number must have been fairly large.
Once again we will estimate low. I think a figure of about 1,500 is reasonable but let’s be even more conservative and say that the real number was closer to 1200.
That means that when total all so-called “collaborators” together, we get a figure of 3,000.
During the conflict we know that the Provisional IRA killed 26 contractors to the Security Forces, 2 civilian searchers, 8 civilians employed by the Army or RUC and 5 people who provided goods/services to the Security Forces, giving us a total of 41.
41 = 1.36% of 3,000
Civilian political activists
The Provos considered members of the Ulster Unionist Party, Ulster Democratic Party, Progressive Unionist Party and (at least from 1975 to 1997) senior elected representatives and senior party members (for example MP’s) of the Conservative Party, to be “legitimate targets”.
Ian Gow MP. Murdered by PIRA/SF
Strangely, whether or not the Provisionals actually regarded members of the DUP as “legitimate targets”, very few serious attacks were ever carried out by PIRA/SF against DUP members or their homes/property. Therefore, we must omit the DUP from the number of potential targets and actual casualties.
How many members passed through the ranks of each party in the relevant time period? Again we are compelled to estimate.
Given that the UUP was by far the biggest Unionist party in NI throughout the conflict, and that in the 1980s the party had around 300 elected representatives, including local councillors and Members of Parliament. I think it is safe to assume that the party would have had at least 5 rank-and-file members for every elected representative.
Therefore there would have been, at any given time, approximately 1800 members of the UUP. We could reasonably assume then that over the course of 28 years the Ulster Unionist Party would have had around 2,400 members across that time period, since, of course, the party would have members leave, members emigrate, die of natural causes etc and, conversely, would have had new members joining.
Edgar Graham, regarded by many as a probable future leader of the UUP, brutally murdered by the Provisional IRA
Figures for the UDP and PUP are even more difficult to estimate. The UDP was formed in 1981 and probably never had more than 500 members pass through the ranks between it’s foundation and the signing of the Belfast Agreement.
As a former party member I would say that this is a low estimate but since exact numbers are unavailable it us best to underestimate rather than overestimate.
The PUP came into existence slightly earlier and therefore must have had more individuals come and go over the years. If we assume that the Ulster Democratic Party had a total membership of 500 (from 1981-1998) then I think it is safe to assume that the PUP would have had approximately 550 members between 1979 and 1998.
The number of Conservative party MP’s (1975-1998) is much easier to ascertain. At the 1974 General Election, the Tories won 297 seats. At the 1979 General Election, 339 Tory MP’s were elected. Most of these Members of Parliament (but by no means all) would have served throughout the 1980s and 90s. I think it is extremely reasonable to assume then, that between 1975 and 1998, there would have been around 500 Conservative MP’s and senior party members who would have been seen as “legitimate targets” by the Provisional IRA.
This gives us a total of 3,950 civilian political activists regarded as potential targets by PIRA/Sinn Fein.
We know that the Provos killed 5 members of the UUP, one of whom was also a member of the UDR and is therefore counted amongst UDR casualties. Four members of the Conservative Party were killed by the Provisional IRA and 4 members of the Ulster Democratic Party, no members of the PUP were killed, despite several assassination attempts on PUP members.
12 = 0.3% of 3,950
The Royal Family
Today there are 41 members of the Royal Family. I think it reasonable to assume therefore that there would have been around 40 members thereof for the majority of The Troubles, because of course, some members of the Royal Family who lived throughout The Troubles are no longer with us and many of the “current crop” of royals had not yet been born.
We know that the Provisional IRA killed only ONE member of the extended Royal Family, Lord Mountbatten.
1 = 2.5% of 40
Throughout most of the conflict, every medium to large town in Northern Ireland had it’s own courthouse. Each of those courts would have had at least 2-3 sitting judges or magistrates and, of course, courts in the larger towns and cities would have had more.
That would mean approximately 55-65 members of the judiciary working in NI at any given time, plus twice as many, 110-130, Justices of the Peace, since traditionally there were 2 JP’s for every judge or magistrate. At the present time, according to https://judiciaryni.uk/about-judiciary/judicial-members there are currently 64 members of the judiciary in Northern Ireland plus JP’s, who are now known (since 2002) as “Lay Magistrates”.
[photo credit- OnThisDayTheIRA]
Thus, our estimate seems accurate, however, we must calculate the approximate number of judges, magistrates etc across the years (1970-1998). If we assume that a member of the judiciary will enjoy quite a long career then I think it reasonable to assume that perhaps 100 judges, magistrates, etc plus another 300 or so Justices of the Peace, would have served at one time or another between 1970 and 1998.
We know that the Provisional IRA killed 7 members of the judiciary and Justices of the Peace.
7 = 1.75% of 400
At it’s height, the Ulster Defence Association had some 40,000 members, this would also include members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Young Militants. I think therefore that it is reasonable to estimate that throughout the conflict the UDA/UFF would have seen at least 48,000 members pass through it’s ranks (and I believe that to be a conservative estimate).
Members of the UDA on the march, circa 1972
The Ulster Volunteer Force is believed to have had about 1,500 members at it’s peak. Given the high number of UVF members imprisoned, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, I think it is reasonable to estimate that the UVF (including the PAF and RHC) would have had approximately 3,200 members from 1970-1998.
48,000 + 3,200 = 51,200, a total that will no doubt surprise many people. Another surprise, for some, is that the Provisional IRA were largely ineffective against the Loyalist armed groups, killing only 25 members of the UDA/UFF and only 12 members of the UVF/Red Hand Commando, meaning that throughout ‘The Troubles’, the Provisional IRA assassinated a total of 37 Loyalist paramilitaries.
The Provisional IRA would often claim, in the wake of a sectarian assassination or gun attack, that their intended target, or the victim, was a member of the UDA/UFF or UVF. In many cases this was a purely cynical ploy, designed to disguise the fact that they were murdering Protestant civilians for purely sectarian reasons, but in many other instances the Provos genuinely believed their claims, an illustration of the poor levels of intelligence possessed by PIRA with regard to Loyalist armed groups.
Collusion; Garda sources incorrectly named Ian Sproule as a UVF member, he was subsequently murdered by the Provos.
Indeed, it could be argued that without the collusion of MI5, RUC Special Branch and (at various times) An Garda Siochana, the Provisional IRA would have been almost impotent against the Loyalist paramilitaries, as in the case of several prominent Loyalists there is, at least some, evidence of collusion; the murders of John McMichael, Cecil McKnight and Ray Smallwoods being 3 pertinent examples.
37 from a potential 51,200 is feeble, indeed, even if Loyalist paramilitaries had only numbered in the range of 4 or 5 thousand, 37 is still an extremely low number.
37 = 0.07% of 51,200
Before we attempt to arrive at a grand total we must first subtract the number of ‘others’ who died as a result of PIRA activities. By ‘others’ we mean those killed because they were believed to be informers, alleged criminals, those members of the Provisional IRA killed by their own actions or the actions of their comrades, those killed during republican feuds and those who were regarded as “legitimate targets” at the time or under the circumstances, such as English police officers, members of the Armed Forces killed outside the UK, Royal Navy personnel etc.
Our research shows that some 51 people were murdered by the Provos for being alleged informers, no fewer than 29 of whom were members of their own organisation.
Caroline Moreland, abducted, tortured, raped and subsequently murdered by PIRA/Sinn Fein who suspected her of being an informer.
10 alleged criminals were killed by the Provisional IRA between 1970 and 1998.
107 PIRA/SF members were killed by their own bombs and a further 2 were accidentally killed by their comrades. 9 died on hunger strike between 1974 and 1981 (thus falling under the definition of being killed by their own actions).
7 members of the Armed Forces were killed in attacks in Germany and the Netherlands. Only 1 Royal Navy seaman was killed by PIRA.
The funeral of Cpl. Maheshkumar Islania (right) and his baby daughter Nivruti, aged just 6 months. Cpl. Islania and his infant daughter were murdered by the Provisional IRA, October, 1989.
6 English police officers were murdered by the Provisional IRA in the line of duty.
6 members of An Garda Siochana, one member of the Irish Army and one Irish prison officer were killed by PIRA.
A further 13 people were killed by the Provisionals during republican feuds. That means our total for ‘others‘ is 214.
Eileen Kelly, aged 6, murdered by PIRA in 1975 during a republican feud
We will now add together all of the potential targets available to the Provisional IRA;
British Army (Inc. T. A.) – 248,000
RUC & RUC Reserve – 18,000
UDR/RIR – 20,000
Prison Service – 1,800
Sec. Forces Contractors – 3,000
Political activists – 3,950
Royal Family – 40
Judiciary – 400
Loyalist paramilitaries – 51,200
Number actually killed
British Army – 448
RUC – 257
UDR/RIR – 228
PRISON SERVICE – 22
SEC. FORCES CONTRACTORS – 41
POLITICAL ACTIVISTS – 12
ROYAL FAMILY – 1
JUDICIARY – 7
LOYALIST PARAMILITARIES – 37
TOTAL – 1,053
1,053 = 0.303% of 346,390
Of those 1,053 people 163 were non-combatants- politicians, retired police officers, Justices of the Peace, etc.
Thus we can see that of all the potential “legitimate targets” available to the Provisional IRA over the course of their campaign, they actually killed just 0.3% of those “legitimate targets”.
‘Lost Lives’ gives a total of 1,781 people killed by the Provisional IRA. CAIN gives a total of 1,823, although both include murders carried out after 1998.
Our own independent research suggests that the Provos killed 1,810 people.
1,810 – 1,052 = 758 – 214 others =544
544 people, who were not only non-combatants but who were, by the Provisional IRA’s own very, very broad definition, not even so-called “legitimate targets”.
544 people- including babies, young children, a nun, a Dutch seaman, a party of senior citizens on an outing, at least 5 young men with learning difficulties and a widowed mother of ten.
Far from being a “sophisticated and effective” terrorist organisation, our research clearly demonstrates that the Provisional IRA, whilst extremely active and bloodthirsty, were neither sophisticated nor particularly effective.
A few “spectaculars” aside (Narrow-Water, the Brighton bomb, Canary Wharf etc), the Provos were incapable of doing serious damage to their perceived enemies.
This is further borne out by the number of failed attacks and attempted assassinations carried out by PIRA/SF. With the Provos often trying (and failing) to kill a single individual numerous times.
The result of our statistical re-analysis is clear-
For the self-appointed “defenders of the nationalist community” to have only killed 37 Loyalist militants, just 0.07% of such individuals, when Loyalist groups were regularly killing nationalists and republicans, is, by any standard, an abject and absolute failure.
For the self-appointed “liberators of the occupied 6 counties” to have killed only 0.18% of those they regarded as being the “occupying army” is, frankly, laughable.
To have been so ineffectual and yet to have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians, many of them deliberately targeted, is a damning indictment. Especially since the Provisional IRA had the most extensive list of “legitimate targets” of any armed group in Ulster.
However, we will leave you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions.
The statistical data is unambiguous.