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Irish People's Liberation Organisation

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1986 – May 1992

Area of operations
Northern Ireland

Irish nationalismIrish republicanismLeft-wing nationalismSocialismAnti-imperialism

The Irish People's Liberation Organisation was a small Irish republican paramilitary organisation which was formed in 1986 by disaffected and expelled members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) whose factions coalesced in the aftermath of the supergrass trials. It developed a reputation for intra-republican violence and criminality, before being forcibly disbanded by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1992.


Some of the IPLO's most notable attacks during its short existence (compared to other paramilitary groups in Ireland) were:

  • the Orange Cross shooting in which they killed a member of the Red Hand Commando and injured an Ulster Defence Regiment soldier;
  • the Donegall Arms shooting when they did a "spray job" on a Protestant-owned pub, killing two Protestant civilians and injuring three or four; and
  • the assassination of outspoken Loyalist George Seawright in November 1987.
  • The IPLO remains a Proscribed Organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000.


    The IPLO emerged from a split within the INLA. After the 1981 Irish hunger strike, in which three of its members died, the INLA began to break apart. The INLA virtually dissolved as a coherent force in the mid-1980s. Factions associated with Belfast and Dublin fell into dispute with each other. When INLA man Harry Kirkpatrick turned supergrass, he implicated many of his former comrades in various activities and many of them were convicted on his testimony.

    Members both inside and out of prison broke away from the INLA and set up the IPLO. Some key players at the outset were Tom McAllister, Gerard Steenson, Jimmy Brown and Martin 'Rook' O'Prey. Jimmy Brown formed a minor political group, known as the Republican Socialist Collective, which was to act as the political wing of the IPLO.

    The IPLO's initial priority was to forcibly disband the Irish Republican Socialist Movement from which it had split, and most of its early attacks reflected this, being more frequently against former comrades than on the security forces in Northern Ireland. The destructive psychological impact of the feud on the communities that the combatants came from was huge as it was viewed as a fratricidal conflict between fellow republicans.

    The INLA shot and killed IPLO leader Gerard Steenson in March 1987, and following revenge killings by the IPLO, the organisations agreed to go their separate ways.

    Internal feud

    The IPLO was accused of becoming involved in the illegal drug trade, especially in ecstasy. Some of its Belfast members were also accused of the prolonged gang rape of a North Down woman in Divis Flats in 1990. Many of its recruits had fallen out of favour with the IRA and the portents for its future were not good. Sammy Ward, a low-level IPLO member, broke away from the main body of the organisation with a few supporters when the IPLO were severely depleted and weak in Belfast. His faction attacked the rest of the IPLO, culminating in the killing of Jimmy Brown. A full-scale feud followed between two factions terming themselves "Army Council" (led by Jimmy Brown) and "Belfast Brigade" (led by Ward), which led to the 3000th killing of the Troubles, Hugh McKibben, a 21-year-old "Army Council" man. Brown had been the previous victim when he was shot dead in West Belfast on 18 August 1992. This feud was described by the IPLO's critics as a lethal squabble over money and drugs.


    The Provisional IRA – by far the largest armed republican group in Ireland – decided this was an opportunity to attack and remove the IPLO given the IPLO's involvement in the drug trade. They mounted an operation to wipe out the IPLO. On Saturday 31 October 1992, in an event that was later dubbed "Night of the Long Knives" by locals in Belfast, the IRA attacked the two IPLO factions in Belfast, killing the breakaway Belfast Brigade leader Sammy Ward in the Short Strand. There were also raids on pubs and clubs where IPLO members were kneecapped. On 2 November 1992 the second-in-command of the IPLO Belfast Brigade formally surrendered to the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade adjutant, which brought an end to the group in Belfast.

    Outside Belfast the IRA did not attack any IPLO units and issued statements absolving the IPLO units in Derry, Newry and Armagh from any involvement in the drugs trade that was alleged against those in Belfast. In Dublin the IRA reprieved the IPLO Chief of Staff in return for surrendering a small cache of arms held in Ballybough.


    According to the Sutton database of deaths at the University of Ulster's CAIN project, the IPLO was responsible for 22 killings during the Troubles. Among its victims were twelve civilians, six INLA members, two loyalist paramilitary figures and two members of the British security forces, a Royal Navy reservist and a Royal Ulster Constabulary constable.

    List of attacks

    21 December 1986 - Thomas McCartan (31), a member of the INLA, was shot dead by the Irish People's Liberation Organisation in Andersonstown, Belfast. This was the first killing in an INLA / IPLO feud that was to last until March 1987.

    20 January 1987 - The IPLO killed two members of the INLA (Thomas Power & John O'Reilly),they shot them inside a hotel in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

    18 February 1987 - The IPLO shot dead INLA Volunteer Michael Kearney near his home in Ballymurphy, Belfast.

    21 March 1987 - The IPLO shot dead a Catholic INLA Volunteer Emmanuel Gargan on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.

    22 March 1987 - The IPLO shot dead INLA Volunteer Kevin Duffy. His body was found in the playground of St. Brigid's School, Nursery Road, Armagh. This was the last killing of the IPLO/INLA feud.

    19 November 1987 - George Seawright an extreme Loyalist activist known for his anti-Catholic views was shot by the IPLO and he died of his wounds on the 3 December 1987.

    7 September 1988 - UDA Volunteer William Quee was shot and killed by the IPLO at his shop in Oldpark Road, Belfast.

    3 October 1988 - The IPLO shot dead Catholic civilian Henry McNamee at his girlfriends home at Lenadoon Avenue, Belfast. The IPLO claimed he was an informer.

    18 February 1989 - Orange Cross Social Club shooting The IPLO attacked a Protestant pub, killing RHC Volunteer Stephen McRea & injuring several people.

    6 November 1989 - Catholic civilian Robbert Burns was shot dead by the IPLO near his home in Milltown Avenue, Co. Antrim

    20 March 1990 - William McClure a Protestant civilian was shot dead at his Belfast home by an IPLO hit squad.

    28 March 1990 - The IPLO became a proscribed organization in Northern Ireland.

    15 July 1990 - The IPLO shot dead William Sloss a Protestant civilian in his home in Lisburn, Belfast

    18 July 1991 - The IPLO shot dead an off duty member of the Royal Navy at his shop in Church Lane, Belfast.

    7 October 1991 - An IPLO unit fired shots into a bar in south Belfast injuring 2 people.

    10 October 1991 - An IPLO active service unit carried out a gun attack on the Diamond Jubilee Bar on the Shankill Road Belfast, killing a UDA Volunteer & injuring several people.

    15 December 1991 - The IPLO shot dead a Catholic civilian Colm Mahon at his workplace on Little Donegal Street, Belfast

    21 December 1991 - The IPLO shot dead two Protestant civilians Barry Watson & Thomas Gorman during a gun attack carried out on the Donegall Arms pub in Roden Street, Village, Belfast.

    17 February 1992 - The IPLO shot dead a Protestant civilian at his work place in Upper Crumlin Road, Belfast.

    5 May 1992 - The IPLO shot dead a Protestant civilian during a gun attack on the Mount Inn pup, North Queen Street, Belfast. The IPLO claimed the attack was revenge for the killing of one of their own Volunteers six days earlier by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

    June 1992 - An armed IPLO unit lead by Sammy Ward burst into a pub in Belfast on the Antrim Road and read out a statement which said in part "the IPLO would not take Provo aggression lying down". Several members of the IRA were drinking in the pub at the time. This led to further tension between the IPLO & the PIRA

    18 August 1992 - Leading IPLO member Jimmy Brown was shot dead by the IPLO Belfast Brigade. This was the start of an internal IPLO feud.

    27 August - The IPLO Belfast brigade shot dead an IPLO Volunteer outside Lamh Dearg GAA club in Hannahstown, Belfast.

    11 September 1992 - The IPLO shot dead a Catholic civilian in Ballymurphy, Belfast

    22 September 1992 - The IPLO firebombed a pub in Belfast City Centre. The pub was firebombed because it failed to pay money to the IPLO through extortion.

    21 April 1997 - A Group of men claiming to be from the IPLO carried out a robbery on a Credit Union in Newry.


    Irish People's Liberation Organisation Wikipedia

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