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