The Troubles

Who was primarily responsible for driving the Troubles and its attendant toll of dead, injured, and the emotionally traumatised?

The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, between 1966 and the present, claimed upwards of 4,000 dead and some 45,000 injured, some horribly so. Did it have to happen? The answer is a very clear ‘no’. Reform was in the air. Many contributed in one way or another to this national tragedy but the primary responsibility for driving the conflict over three decades lies with the Provisional IRA.

Martin Meehan Mural

Image courtesy of Patrick Speight

In the end, more than 80% of the victims who suffered violent deaths by bomb or bullet were Irish-born (see the statistics below). Thus, the Provisional IRA offensive, at root, was an attack on democracy in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain.

It was also an assault on the nationalist population of the North, as literally thousands of mainly young Catholics were subjected to ‘punishment’ beatings, shootings and exiling by IRA vigilantes.

The Provisionals’ ‘war’ also exposed the nationalist community to politico-sectarian attacks by loyalist paramilitaries. In no sense was this community defended by the Provisional IRA or its fellow travellers in Sinn Féin. Before 1970 only a handful of people died as a result of political violence. After 1970, when the IRA claimed to be ‘defenders’ of the people, more than a thousand Catholics were put to death, mainly by loyalist paramilitaries.

This book is about vindicating the right of the Irish peoples, North and South, nationalist, unionist, conservative, labour, socialist and other, to pursue political change by peaceful, democratic means. The Provisional IRA and its fellow travellers violated that right, thereby inflicting a huge injustice on the Irish peoples.

Sinn Féin, as the representative body of the provisional republican movement, should apologise to northern unionists, northern nationalists and the Irish peoples more generally for the Decades of Terror. The apology is to those who refused to be absorbed into communal and sectarian bloodletting.

The counterparts of the IRA, the Loyalist paramilitaries, who visited untold suffering on innocent Catholics and their own loyalist communities, should also apologise for their murderous activity, both to the Irish democracy and to other unionists.

UVF mural

Who did the Killings during the Troubles?

Note: Six out of every ten violence-related deaths (59%) were due to republican paramilitaries. Second in the killing stakes were loyalist paramilitaries (29%). The combined security forces – British Army, RUC & RUC Reserve, UDR – were responsible for one in ten killings (10%).


All deaths:

The number of Troubles-related deaths: 3,636

  • Total Civilian Deaths
  • Catholic Civilian Deaths
  • Protestant Civilian Deaths
  • Civilian Deaths due to IRA

Civilian deaths:

The number of Troubles-related civilian deaths: 2,037
Civilian deaths as a proportion of all deaths: 56%
Number of Catholic civilian deaths: 1,232
Number of Protestant civilian deaths: 698
Number of civilian deaths due to the IRA: 636

Combatant deaths:

Deaths suffered by Republican volunteers: 392
Deaths suffered by Loyalist volunteers: 144
Deaths suffered by the Security forces: 1,012

Security Forces

Irish-born persons as a proportion of all deaths: greater than 80%

Source: Calculated from McKittrick et al., Lost Lives (1999), 1473–84.

Paramilitary deaths as a proportion of combatant deaths: 35%
Security force deaths as a proportion of combatant deaths: 65%

  • Parimilitary Deaths
  • Security Force Deaths