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Criminality Figures Do Not Add Up


David Adams • Irish Times, 4 August 2006

At a joint press conference with prime minister Tony Blair on June 29th, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern responded to a question about republican criminality by saying, ". . . I'm glad to report there is no link whatsoever that we have traced in a long, long, long way back of IRA involvement in criminality of any kind in the Republic of Ireland".

Even allowing for the maxim of a week being "a long way back" in politics and the possibility of some slight exaggeration in timescale, this still appeared to signal a remarkably speedy turnaround on the part of the IRA. One might have imagined it would take many years for republicans to dismantle and extricate themselves from the "vast criminal and political conspiracy" alluded to in the recent past by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

Given the changed circumstances, does this mean then that national and international investigations into republican involvement in property empires, money-laundering and tax evasion are now likely to be wound up?

For a while, Mr Ahern's assessment seemed to contrast sharply with what we were being told about IRA activity in the North.

On July 5th (six days after the joint prime ministerial press conference), the cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) published a report on organised crime in Northern Ireland. The NIAC said all paramilitary groups including the IRA remained ". . . heavily involved in organised crime, both as a means of raising finance for their organisations and for personal gain".

The report pointed to continued paramilitary involvement in excise and tax frauds, intellectual property crime, illegal fuel and cigarette smuggling, the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods, people trafficking and prostitution, illegal dumping, armed robbery, drugs, money-laundering and extortion.

The Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) brings together senior figures from the PSNI, Revenue and Customs, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Home Office, the Northern Ireland Office, the Assets Recovery Agency and the NI government departments in a multi-agency forum to tackle organised crime.

The OCTF welcomed the NIAC report, and agrees that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland are still involved in organised crime. It even comments on the professionalism they bring to it. The paramilitary groups have evolved ". . . from effective terrorist organisations into lucrative criminal enterprises, combining the two objectives when required".

The OCTF says that during the past year, it and partner agencies have seized, ". . . over £7 million of drugs, almost £10 million of counterfeit goods, and over 35 million cigarettes"; with "over £30 million of assets . . . also seized, restrained or confiscated". Based on these different assessments of the nature of organised crime on either side of the Border, are we to believe then that the IRA is now operating a kind of partitionist policy by confining its activities solely to Northern Ireland? That, for example, the booming cross-Border trade in laundered fuel, contraband cigarettes and counterfeit goods works on the basis of a territorial carve-up between republicans operating in Northern Ireland and so-called ordinary criminals in the Republic? Not according to the NIAC, which makes clear there are no jurisdictional limits on organised crime. It quotes the PSNI as describing how the Border is used to conceal and launder assets by " . . . transferring funds between accounts on either side of the Border, purchasing assets, notably property, in the Republic of Ireland and, using parallel company structures, passing money between businesses to make cash flows appear legitimate".

So how does all of this equate with Mr Ahern's statement that there is no linkage at all between the IRA and criminality in the Republic?

At Hillsborough on July 25th, after meeting Irish Government Ministers Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell, Northern Secretary Peter Hain moved to clarify the situation. "There probably is still some localised individual criminality by former and maybe existing Provisional IRA members for their own private gain," he said. "What there is not is organised from-the-centre criminality any more."

So there we have it then: though organised crime continues apace on both sides of the Border, both Mr Ahern and Mr Hain are certain it is no longer sanctioned by the IRA leadership.

The PSNI's Sir Hugh Orde was less confident of this when telling the NIAC: "It is very hard to judge what is paramilitary crime and, in the current debate, what is ordinary crime being committed by paramilitaries for their own gain rather than the organisation's gain, certainly in relation to the Provisional IRA."

In an open letter to unionists, carried by the News Letter earlier this week, Mr Hain acknowledged that ". . . in the past we were over-optimistic about the pace of transition within the republican movement".

With both governments' eyes firmly fixed on November 24th, it would seem in light of all the evidence they are in danger of making the same mistake again.


Reprinted with permission from the author.























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13 August 2006

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