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Violence - Membership and Arsenals of Paramilitary Groups



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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh
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Estimates of the Strength of Paramilitary Groups

Paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland never published annual accounts, therefore information on membership and the size of arsenals was speculative. Estimates of the strength of paramilitary groups did sometimes appear in the media. These were usually based on a few main sources: The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the British Army, and British Intelligence agencies (MI5 and MI6). Other sources such as the Independent (London) Jane's Intelligence Review and the security correspondents of various media organisations usually obtained information for their reports from briefings by the security services. The following information should be treated as a rough estimate based on a number of public reports.
(See also: Information on Loyalist and Republican Paramilitary Groups.)

© Copyright Eamon Melaugh


Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)
Status: Intact
Membership: Membership is probably numbered in the dozens. It is believed that it attracted members from the "real" IRA (rIRA) when that organisation declared a ceasefire in 1998.
Arsenal: The CIRA is known to be in the possession of some weapons that were taken from IRA dumps. The CIRA probably has access to a few dozen rifles, machine guns, and pistols; a small amount of Semtex (commercial high explosive); and a few dozen detonators.
[For additional information see abstract on CIRA]
Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
Status: Moribund - ended 'armed struggle' on 11 October 2009.
Membership: Membership was estimated at a couple of dozen active members with a network of supporters in Ireland and continental Europe.
Arsenal: Before decommissioning took place the INLA was believed to have small stocks of rifles, hand guns and, possibly, grenades; it was also believed to have a small stock of commercial explosive from a source in New Zealand in the mid-1990s.
[For additional information see abstract on INLA]
Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Status: On Thursday 28 July 2005 the leadership of the IRA issued a statement which formally ordered an end to its 'armed campaign' and instructed all IRA units to dump arms. On Monday 26 September 2005 it was announced by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) that the IRA had completed the decommissioning of all of its arms.
Membership:
It is thought that membership of the IRA peaked at around 1,500 in the mid-1970s and it is believed that at the time of the 1994 ceasefire membership was approximately 500 with a smaller number being 'active' members. The reduced membership coincided with the adoption by the IRA in 1979 of a 'cell structure' in an attempt to counter security force penetration through the use of informers. In addition to members in Ireland the IRA also had one or two 'active service units' in Britain and mainland Europe.
Arsenal: After its formation the (Provisional) IRA quickly became the most heavily, and best, armed of the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The IRA may have had: 600 AK-47 / AKM assault rifles (believed to be Czech and Romanian versions of the AK-47 rifle smuggled from Libya between 1984 and 1987); 60 Armalite AR-15 assault rifles; 12 7.62mm FN MAG medium machine guns; 20 12.7mmx107mm DShK heavy machine guns; 2 to 3 SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles; 40 RPG-7 rocket launchers; 40 Webley .455 revolvers; 6 LPO-50 flame throwers; 600 Assorted detonators; 3 tonnes of Semtex (commercial high explosive.) The IRA has always made use of 'home-made' weapons. These weapons became more sophisticated and more powerful over the years and included home-made mortars and fertiliser-based car and lorry bombs. Often these bombs contained hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pounds of home-made explosives. Several large home-made bombs have been used in the centre of London and Manchester causing hundreds of millions of pounds of damage.
[For additional information see abstract on IRA]
Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)
Status: Moribund -'stood down' 30 October 2005.
Membership: Membership wass probably numbered in the dozens.
Arsenal: The LVF was believed to have a small number of rifles, machineguns, and handguns; small amount of Powergel (commercial plastic explosive). The LVF was the first paramilitary organisation to hand over some weapons for destruction to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).
[For additional information see abstract on LVF]
Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) [recently described as 'Group B']
Status: Moribund.
Membership: The OIRA called a ceasefire in 1972. There have been a number of incidents since then attributed to the 'Officials' and it is possible that a small number of people still belong to a remnant of that organisation (the Irish Times referred to this remnant as 'Group B' - 14 May 1998).
Arsenal: Prior to decommissioning it was believed that the OIRA possessed 300-400 rifles; a small number of heavy machineguns; and dozens of hand guns.
[For additional information see abstract on OIRA]
"real" Irish Republican Army (rIRA)
Status: Active.
Membership: Membership is probably numbered in the dozens. When the rIRA called a ceasefire in 1998 it is believed that some members joined the CIRA. The rIRA subsequently returned to violence.
Arsenal: The rIRA is believed to be in the possession of some weapons that were taken from IRA dumps. The rIRA probably has access to a few dozen rifles, machine guns, and pistols; a small amount of Semtex (commercial high explosive); and a small number of detonators.
[For additional information see abstract on rIRA]
Red Hand Defenders (RHD) / Orange Volunteers (OV)
Status: Moribund.
Membership: The RHD and the OV both came to prominence in 1998. A number of commentators believe the two groups draw on the same pool of support which may number several dozen. It was also believed that the two names were used by other Loyalist organisations to claim attacks ('no claim, no blame').
Arsenal: Both organisations have used home-made 'pipe bombs' (or blast bombs), but also appear to have access to grenades and hand guns.
[For additional information see abstracts on RHD and OV]
Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Status: Moribund - on 11 November 2007 the UDA/UFF 'stood down'. The UDA decommissioned its weapons on 6 January 2010.
Membership: At its peak in the mid-1970s, the UDA could organise 30,000 members on the streets of Belfast. In 2007 its strength was probably several hundred with a few dozen being 'active' in the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) a covername used by the UDA.
Arsenal: Prior to decommissioning the UDA was believed to possess: 200 AK-47 rifles, Uzi machineguns, and machine pistols (also home-made submachine guns, perhaps hundreds); 200 handguns; an unknown amount of Powergel (commercial plastic explosive) which was probably obtained some time in 1994;
[For additional information see abstract on UDA]
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Status: Moribund - on 3 May 2007 the UVF 'stood down'. The UVF decommissioned its weapons on 27 June 2009.
Membership:
Membership of the UVF was estimated to be up to several hundred, with a smaller number being 'active' members.
Arsenal: Prior to decommissioning the UVF was believed to possess: 200 AK-47 rifles, Uzi machineguns, and machine pistols (also home-made submachine guns); dozens of pistols and revolvers. The UVF also has a small number of RPG-7 rocket launchers and a small amount of Powergel (commercial plastic explosive), some of which has been used in occasional bomb attacks in the Republic of Ireland.
[For additional information see abstract on UVF]


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