Night of the Long Knives (1992)

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Night of the Long Knives
Part of the Troubles
Date31 October – 2 November 1992
Result Successful IRA operation
Surrender of IPLO Belfast Brigade on 3 November
and IPLO GHQ on 7 November.
Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade

Irish People's Liberation Organisation Belfast Brigade

Irish People's Liberation Organisation Army Council
Up to 100 volunteers Unknown
Casualties and losses
None IPLOBB leader Sammy Ward shot dead
about a dozen others shot and injured
several others beaten & forced into exile

The Night of the Long Knives is the name given to the night in Belfast of 31 October 1992, when the Provisional IRA's Belfast Brigade launched a large military operation to wipe out the IPLO Belfast Brigade, who most Irish republicans in the city (especially in the IRA) felt were becoming an embarrassment to Irish republicanism due to their involvement in drug dealing, criminality and internal Irish republican feuds.


The IPLO was created as an Irish Republican & Revolutionary socialist paramilitary organisation by Irish Republican Socialists. In 1986, expelled members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and those unhappy within the organisation upset with the direction the INLA was going decided to form the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO), along with a small socialist political wing called the Republican Socialist Collective. When the IPLO was formed, its main goals was to wipe out the INLA and establish itself as the main Irish republican socialist movement. The feud lasted a year until a truce was called after several people on either side were killed. Important paramilitaries on both sides were killed, like Jimmy Brown, Gerard Steenson, and Tom McAllister. It has been speculated that the IPLO killed Mary McGlinchey, a female INLA member and wife of the former INLA Chief of Staff Dominic McGlinchey, during the feud, although nothing has ever been proven and Mary McGlinchey's killers never claimed responsibility for the killing.

Throughout the IPLO's campaign from 1986 to 1992 it killed 22 people; 6 INLA members, 2 members of the British Security Forces, 2 loyalist paramilitaries, and 12 civilians,

The IPLO was more sectarian than any other republican paramilitary groups, often engaging openly in attacks on Protestant civilians. In 1987 an IPLO unit assassinated outspoken loyalist politician George Seawright, who had called for the genocide of Catholics. In 1989 during the attack on the Orange Cross Social Club they killed a Red Hand Commando member and injured several civilians. In another attack on a loyalist bar, they killed Ulster Defence Association member Harrdy Ward in the Diamond Jubilee bar in on the Shankill Road, and on 31 December 1991 killed two more Protestant civilians in a gun attack on a public house in the Village area of Belfast called the Donegal Arms.[1] On 5 May 1992, they killed 66-year-old Protestant civilian William Sergeant.[2]

IPLO internal feud[edit]

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.[3] Many of its recruits had fallen out of favour with the IRA and the portents for its future were not good. Sammy Ward, a mid-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" (previously led by Jimmy Brown) and "Belfast Brigade" (led by Ward), which led to the 3000th killing of the Troubles, Hugh McKibbon, 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 were on good terms with IPLO leader Jimmy Brown, which was the only thing that stopped the IRA from moving against the IPLO sooner. Once he was killed, and Sammy Ward took over, the IRA decided to launch a huge operation to take him, and the IPLO as an organisation, out.

The IRA, embarrassed by the actions of the Belfast brigade of the IPLO, decided to eliminate them. Launching their operation on 31 October 1992, IPLO Belfast Brigade leader Sammy Ward was shot dead in the Short Strand,[2] and at the same time there were raids on pubs and clubs across west Belfast where several IPLO members were kneecapped. Many other IPLO members were dragged from their homes, including in the Divis Flats where 20 IRA men marched across the balconies, and told IPLO Volunteers to leave the country forcing them into exile. The sheer size and scale of the IRA operation surprised both factions of the IPLO and even the security forces didn't believe the IRA would be capable of such a large and sophisticated purge that wiped out an enemy in the space of hours without suffering one death or injury themselves. 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.[4]

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. The operation is reputed to have involved 100 IRA members.

Both factions of the Irish People's Liberation Organisation formally surrendered to the IRA's Belfast Brigade leader within a few days of the operation in November 1992.[5]


The IRA presented the attacks as an operation to wipe out drug dealers from Belfast rather than another of the inter-Republican feuds which had taken place in the last few years.[6]

Some IPLO Volunteers rejoined the INLA like Crip McWilliams who shot to death Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright inside the Maze Prison in December 1997.[7]

Seventeen years earlier the PIRA had staged a similar operation against the Official IRA between October and November 1975 resulting in several deaths on each side, as the OIRA was much stronger in 1975 than the IPLO in 1992 but the Provisional IRA still came out on top, after suffering heavy losses themselves.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]



  1. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  3. ^ Ballymurphy and the Irish War by De Baroid p. 331
  4. ^ INLA Deadly Divisions Jack Holland p. 343
  6. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald - INLA: Deadly Divisions p.342
  7. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  8. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  9. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  10. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  11. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  12. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  13. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  14. ^ Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  15. ^ Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 17 May 2017.