The IRA’s Chief of Staff is the organisation’s commander, responsible for directing the organisation’s military strategy in conjunction with General Headquarters (GHQ) staff.
GHQ staff, or Directors, are in charge of specific departments ranging from Operations, to Intelligence to Finance and so on, each department mirroring a military function. Along with the Quarter-Master General (QMG) and the Adjutant-General (AG), these people make up the IRA’s military leadership.
But the buck stops at the Chief of Staff’s desk. Some departments, such as England, Europe, the IRA in the USA and further afield report directly to him (never a her). Otherwise, Departmental heads report to the Chief of Staff whose job is to implement a military policy decided upon by the Army Council (some of whose members may overlap with GHQ). The Chief of Staff has a seat as of right on the Army Council along with the QMG and AG.
Back in the years when Martin McGuinness was Chief of Staff there was a considerable degree of military devolution in the IRA. Units did not have to ask for permission from GHQ and were free to mount operations as long as they complied with IRA policy; and many activists felt more secure when the breadth of knowledge about planned operations was limited to colleagues whom they knew and trusted.
Nonetheless the statistics do hold evidence that in these days the scale of IRA violence at least, if not individual acts, were directed from the top. This is especially evident in the weeks and months leading up to, and during the IRA hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981 when IRA violence diminished radically, apparently out of a belief that otherwise the spotlight would move away from the prison protests or complicate diplomacy carried out by neutral middlemen.
The relationship between the Chief of Staff and the rank and file units was to change during the years leading up and after the 1994 ceasefire when increasingly the military leadership demanded to know beforehand about planned operations, often in detail, in case they carried negative implications or consequences for the peace process.
Although the IRA had greater freedom of action in the years of McGuinness’ time as Chief of Staff, there were some operations that were planned and authorised at the highest level. And even so, as the IRA’s military commander Martin McGuinness bore ultimate responsibility for all the organisation’s violence since it was perpetrated in pursuit of a military policy which he had the responsibility to implement and by an organisation which he commanded.
In the wake of McGuinness’ decision to quit politics, much of the media coverage is dwelling on his contribution to the peace process, especially his relationship with Ian Paisley. That is understandable. But Martin McGuinness did not become Deputy First Minister (DFM) because he was sociable and gregarious with former opponents.
He occupied that office by virtue of his military career in the IRA and because as a military commander he was trusted by many activists, not least those with reservations about the direction the republican movement was taking. Gerry Adams as DFM would not have cut the mustard with such people.
It is therefore important when examining McGuinness’ career and contribution to Irish politics and history to look at his entire life, including his period as Chief of Staff.
Martin McGuinness was twice Northern Commander of the IRA, once when Northern Command was first established as part of the of re-organisation that followed the 1975 ceasefire. He was again appointed Northern Commander in the mid-1980’s with the job of implementing the post-Eksund offensive.
In-between he was Chief of Staff for four and a half years. We can be quite precise about when he took up office because he succeeded Gerry Adams when he was arrested in February 1978 in the wake of the La Mon restaurant/hotel explosion.
He held the post until the autumn of 1982 when he stood as Sinn Fein candidate in Derry for the ill-fated experimental Assembly established by Conservative Secretary of State, Jim Prior. McGuinness had wanted to combine his elected post with his Chief of Staff job but he was overruled by the Army Council.
It is important when assessing Martin McGuinness’ career as Chief of Staff that he had the task of implementing the revival of the IRA that Gerry Adams and his allies had promised when they overthrew the O Bradaigh-O Connail leadership. It is hard not to conclude that he was successful in that task.
Here is a list of IRA operations carried out during his time at the IRA’s helm (with thanks to the Cain Chronology of the Conflict). The list begins with the La Mon bombing, the event that precipitated his promotion to Chief of Staff to replace Gerry Adams:
Friday 17 February 1978
Twelve people, all Protestant civilians, were killed and 23 badly injured when an incendiary bomb exploded at the restaurant of the La Mon House Hotel, Gransha, near Belfast. The bomb had been planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Canisters of petrol had been attached to a bomb which was left on a window-sill of the restaurant. An inadequate warning had been given and the hotel was being cleared when the bomb exploded. Many of those killed were burnt to death. Seven of the dead were women. There were three married couples among the dead. All those who died were attending the annual dinner-dance of the Irish Collie Club.
Saturday 25 February 1978
Gerry Adams, then Vice-President of Sinn Féin (SF), was charged with membership of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). [On 6 September 1978 Adams was freed when the Judge hearing the case ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he was a member of the IRA.]
Friday 3 March 1978
A British soldier and a Protestant civilian searcher were both killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gun attack on a British Army pedestrian checkpoint in Donegall Street, Belfast.
Friday 17 March 1978
David Jones (23), a British soldier, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during a gun battle in a field near Maghera, County Derry. Jones had been undercover at the time. Francis Hughes, then a member of the IRA, was arrested following the incident.
Sunday 26 March 1978
At the Irish Republican Army (IRA) annual Easter Rising commemorations a number of speakers state that the campaign in Northern Ireland would be intensified.
Thursday 25 May 1978
Brian McKinney and John McClory, both Catholic civilians, were abducted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and ‘disappeared’. [Their bodies were recovered on 29 June 1999.]
Saturday 17 June 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a gun attack on an Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol car near Crossmaglen, County Armagh. One officer, Hugh McConnell (32), was killed at the scene and a second officer, William Turbitt (42), was kidnapped. [A Catholic priest was kidnapped the following day in retaliation but was later released. On 10 July 1978 the body of Officer Turbitt was discovered. In December 1978 three RUC officers were charged with kidnapping the Catholic priest. The same officers were also charged, along with two additional officers, of killing a Catholic shopkeeper in Ahoghill on 19 April 1977.]
Wednesday 21 June 1978
Three members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a passing Protestant civilian were shot dead by undercover members of the British Army during an attempted bomb attack on a Post Office depot, Ballysillan Road, Belfast.
Thursday 21 September 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on Eglinton airfield, County Derry. The terminal building, two aircraft hangers, and four planes were destroyed in the attack.
Thursday 12 October 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) planted a bomb on the Belfast to Dublin train and one woman was killed and two others injured when it exploded without adequate warning.
Tuesday 14 November 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a number of bomb attacks in towns across Northern Ireland. Serious damage was caused in attacks in Armagh, Belfast, Castlederg, Cookstown, Derry and Enniskillen. Thirty-seven people were injured in the attacks. [This series of bomb attacks represented a renewed bombing campaign and over 50 bombs were exploded in the following week.]
Sunday 26 November 1978
Albert Miles, then Deputy Governor of Crumlin Road Prison, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his home in Evelyn Gardens, Belfast. [This was one of a series of attacks on prison officers.]
Thursday 30 November 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a number of bomb and fire-bomb attacks in 14 towns and villages across Northern Ireland. The IRA issued a statement admitting the attacks and warning that it was preparing for a ‘long war’.
Friday 1 December 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out 11 bomb attacks in towns across Northern Ireland.
Sunday 17 December 1978
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of bomb attacks on cities in England. Bombs exploded in Bristol, Coventry, Liverpool, Manchester, and Southampton.
Thursday 21 December 1978
Three British soldiers were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a gun attack on their foot patrol in Crossmaglen, County Armagh.
Friday 5 January 1979
Two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were killed in a car in Ardoyne, Belfast, when the bomb they were transporting exploded prematurely.
Sunday 4 February 1979
Patrick MacKin (60), a former Prison Officer, and his wife Violet (58), were both shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at their home in Oldpark Road, Belfast.
Saturday 24 February 1979
Two Catholic teenagers, Martin McGuigan (16) and James Keenan (16), were killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a remote controlled bomb explosion at Darkley, near Keady, County Armagh. [It is believed that the two teenagers were mistaken in the dark for a British Army foot patrol.]
Thursday 22 March 1979
Members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed Richard Sykes (58), then British Ambassador to the Netherlands, and also his Dutch valet Krel Straub (19), in a gun attack in Den Haag, Netherlands.
The IRA carried out a series of attacks across Northern Ireland with 24 bombs exploding on same day.
Thursday 5 April 1979
Two British soldiers were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) while standing outside Andersonstown join Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army base in Belfast.
Wednesday 11 April 1979
Two British soldiers died as a result of a gun attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Ballymurphy, Belfast.
Monday 16 April 1979
Michael Cassidy (31), a Prison Officer, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as he left a church in Clogher, County Tyrone, where his sister had just gotten married.
Tuesday 17 April 1979
Four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded an estimated 1,000 pound van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh. [This was believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA to this date.]
Thursday 19 April 1979
Agnes Wallace (40), a Prison Officer, was shot dead and three of her colleagues injured when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a gun and grenade attack outside Armagh women’s prison.
A member of the British Army was shot dead by the IRA in Belfast.
Sunday 6 May 1979
An undercover member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and an undercover member of the British Army were both shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh.
Saturday 2 June 1979
An off-duty member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and a Protestant civilian were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at Ballinahome Crescent, Armagh.
Sunday 3 June 1979
Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed by a landmine bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at Cullaville, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.
Thursday 2 August 1979
Two British soldiers were killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a landmine attack at Cathedral Road, Armagh. [These deaths brought the total number of British Army soldiers killed in Northern Ireland since 1969 to 301.]
A Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer was shot dead by the IRA in Belfast.
Tuesday 7 August 1979
Eamon Ryan (32), a civilian in the Republic of Ireland, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during a bank robbery in Strand Street, Tramore, County Waterford.
Monday 27 August 1979
18 British soldiers were killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack at Warrenpoint, County Down. This represented the British Army’s greatest loss of life in a single attack in Northern Ireland. The attack began when the IRA exploded a 500 pound bomb at Narrow Water, near Warrenpoint, as an army convoy was passing. Six members of the Parachute Regiment were killed in this initial bomb. As other troops moved into the area a second bomb was detonated in a nearby Gate Lodge killing 12 soldiers – 10 members of the Parachute Regiment and 2 members of the Queen’s Own Highlanders (one of whom was the Commanding Officer). The explosion also damaged an army helicopter. A gun battle then broke out between the IRA who were positioned in the Irish Republic and British Army soldiers in Northern Ireland.
An innocent civilian was killed on the Republic side of the border by soldiers firing from the north.
Earlier in the day Louis Mountbatten (79), a cousin of the Queen, was killed by a bobby-trap bomb left by the IRA on a boat near Sligo in the Republic of Ireland. Three other people were killed in the explosion, Lady Brabourne (82), Nicholas Knatchbull (14) who was Mountbatten’s grandson, and Paul Maxwell (15) who was a crew member on the boat. Mountbatten had been a regular visitor to the Mullaghmore area of County Sligo each August and never had a bodyguard. He was on a fishing trip and was accompanied by a number of people on the boat when the bomb exploded. [During the Second World War Mountbatten had been supreme commander of allied forces in south-east Asia. He had also been the last British Viceroy of India and oversaw Indian independence. Thomas McMahon was charged with Mountbatten’s murder and later sentenced to life imprisonment.]
Tuesday 2 October 1979
In a statement the Irish Republican Army (IRA) rejected Pope John Paul II’s call for an end to the violence in Northern Ireland. The IRA declared that it had widespread support and that Britain would only withdraw from Northern Ireland if forced to do so: “force is by far the only means of removing the evil of the British presence in Ireland … we know also that upon victory the Church would have no difficulty in recognising us”.
Sunday 28 October 1979
A British Army (BA) soldier and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer died as a result of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gun attack on a joint BA and RUC mobile patrol at Springfield Road, Belfast.
Sunday 16 December 1979
Four British soldiers were killed by a landmine bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at Ballygawley Road, near Dungannon, County Tyrone.
Another soldier was killed by a booby-trap bomb at Forkhill, County Armagh.
James Fowler, a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), was shot dead by the IRA in Omagh, County Tyrone.
Tuesday 1 January 1980
Two undercover members of the British Army (BA) were shot dead by other undercover members of the BA while there were setting up an ambush near Forkhill, County Armagh.
Sunday 6 January 1980
Three members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) where killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a land mine attack near Castlewellan, County Down. [These deaths brought the ‘official’ death toll, as compiled by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), to over 2,000. RUC figures do not count those killed outside of Northern Ireland.]
Thursday 17 January 1980
Three people were killed and two injured when a bomb, being planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), exploded prematurely on a train at Dunmurry, near Belfast. One of those who died was a member of the IRA and the other two people were civilians.
Monday 11 February 1980
Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed in a land mine attack at Rosslea, County Fermanagh.
Saturday 16 February 1980
An off-duty colonel in the British Army was shot dead outside his home in Bielfeld, West Germany.
Monday 5 May 1980
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on the North-South electricity link at Crossmaglen. The British and Irish governments had been attempting to re-establish the link following an earlier explosion.
Tuesday 20 January 1981
Maurice Gilvarry (24), a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was found shot dead near Jonesborough, County Armagh. He had been killed by other members of the IRA who alleged that he had acted as an informer.
A British soldier was shot dead by the IRA in Derry.
Wednesday 21 January 1981
Norman Stronge (86), a former speaker of the Stormont parliament, and James Stronge (48), his son, were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA)in an attack on their mansion, Tynan Abbey, near Middletown, County Armagh.
Friday 6 February 1981
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed and sunk a British coal boat, Nellie M, off the coast at Moville, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland.
Saturday 9 May 1981
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb at an oil terminal in the Shetland Islands. A quarter of a mile away at that time the Queen was attending a function to mark the official opening of the terminal.
Tuesday 19 May 1981
Five British soldiers were killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) landmine attack near Bessbrook, County Armagh. The soldiers had been travelling in an armoured vehicle when the bomb exploded.
Thursday 28 May 1981
Charles Maguire (20) and George McBrearty (24), both members of the IRA, were shot dead as they approached a car on the Lone Moor Road in Derry. The car contained undercover members of the British Army.
A member of the RUC was shot dead by the IRA near Bessbrook, County Armagh.
Wednesday 10 June 1981
Eight Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners on remand escaped form the Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. The prisoners used three handguns, which had been smuggled into the prison, to hold prison officers hostage before taking their uniforms and shooting their way out of the prison.
Saturday 13 June 1981
A booby trap bomb was planted on a car being used by Lord Gardiner during a visit to Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack failed when the bomb fell of the car and failed to explode.
Sunday 2 August 1981
Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed in a landmine attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Loughmacrory, near Omagh, County Tyrone.
Wednesday 5 August 1981
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of car bomb and incendiary bomb attacks in seven areas of Northern Ireland including Belfast, Derry and Lisburn. The attacks caused serious damage to property and minor injuries to a number of people.
Saturday 10 October 1981
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on a British Army (BA) bus close to Chelsea Barracks in London. The device was believed to be a romote controlled bomb hidden in a parked van, close to the junction of Ebury Bridge Road and St. Barnabas Street. The bomb was detonated when the bus carring the soldiers passed. Two British civilians were killed in the blast and 40 other people injured, including 23 soldiers.
Saturday 17 October 1981
Steuart Pringle, then Commandant-General of the Royal Marines, was badly injured when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb under his car.
Monday 26 October 1981
Kenneth Haworth (49), a police explosives officer, was killed when the bomb he was trying to defuse exploded in Oxford Street, London.
Friday 13 November 1981
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on the home of Michael Havers, then British Attorney-General, in London.
Saturday 14 November 1981
The Reverend Robert Bradford (40), then an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at a community centre in Finaghy in Belfast. Kenneth Campbell (29), a Protestant civilian who was a caretaker at the centre, was also shot and killed.
Tuesday 2 March 1982
Lord Lowry, then Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice, was attacked by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as he paid a visit to the Queen’s University of Belfast. The IRA fired several shots at Lowry who was not injured but a lecturer at the university was wounded by the gunfire.
Friday 5 March 1982
Seamus Morgan (24), a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was shot dead by fellow members of the IRA who alleged that he was an informer. His body was found near to Forkhill, County Armagh.
Monday 15 March 1982
Alan McCrum (11), a Protestant boy, was killed and 34 people injured when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb in Bridge Street, Banbridge, County Down. An inadequate warning had been given.
Thursday 25 March 1982
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed three British Soldiers during a gun attack on Crocus Street, off the Springfield Road in west Belfast. Five other people were injured in the attack. [It was believed that an M-60 machine gun was used in the attack.]
Thursday 1 April 1982
Two undercover members of the British Army were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as they drove a civilian type van from the joint Army / Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base in Rosemount, Derry.
Tuesday 20 April 1982
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of attacks in Northern Ireland. Wilbert Kennedy (36) and Noel McCulloch (32), both Protestant civilians, were killed in a bomb blast at the Diamond, Magherafelt, County Derry. An inadequate warning had been given. A further 12 people were injured in the attacks. Bombs exploded in Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Bessbroke, Derry, and Magherafelt, and caused an estimated £1 million pounds in damage.
Friday 16 July 1982
Colm Carey (28), a Catholic civilian, died from loss of blood following a ‘punishment’ shooting carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at his home on Strabane Old Road, Gobnascale, Derry. Carey had been shot in the knee.
Tuesday 20 July 1982
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded two bombs in London, one at South Carriage Drive, close to Hyde Park and the other at the Bandstand in Regent’s Park, resulting in the deaths of 11 British Soldiers. The first bomb exploded shortly before 11.00am when soldiers of the Blues and Royals were travelling on horseback to change the guard at Horseguards Parade. Three soldiers were killed instantly and a fourth died of his injuries on 23 July 1982. A number of civilians who had been watching the parade were also injured. One horse was killed in the explosion but a further six had to be shot due to their injuries. The bomb had been left in a car parked along the side of the road and is believed to have been detonated by a member of the IRA who was watching from within Hyde Park.
The second bomb, which exploded at lunch time, had been planted under the bandstand in Regent’s Park. The explosion killed 7 bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets as they were performing a concert at the open-air bandstand. Approximately two dozen civilians who had been listening to the performance were injured in the explosion. It is thought that the bomb had been triggered by a timing device and may have been planted some time in advance of the concert.