To many people, the term "IRA" equals terrorism. Officially known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the IRA has existed for about 100 years. Its goal has always been the independence of all of Ireland. To achieve that, it has frequently resorted to violence and terror. Most IRA supporters are Irish Roman Catholics.
The IRA is believed to have a large supply of weapons, including machine guns and bomb-making materials. It is known for its use of Semtex, a powerful plastic explosive that is difficult to detect.
The IRA is also feared within the Catholic community that it claims to represent. It controls many poor neighborhoods in Belfast, for instance, and has its own justice system for people caught using drugs, joyriding or other "crimes." Among the brutal punishments blamed on the IRA are kneecapping (shooting a victim in the knees so he cannot walk) and beating victims senseless with baseball bats studded with iron nails.
Although the U.S. government formally considers the IRA to be a terrorist group, it enjoys support among many members of the U.S.'s large Irish-American community.
Observers believe that many U.S. supporters, filled with a romantic notion of a united Ireland, are unaware of the extent of violence and death caused by the IRA.
In June 1997, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made an unusual direct plea to Americans to stop giving money to the IRA.