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Saturday 25 March 2017

Formation of CAB nearly stalled over legal concerns

LYNN KELLEHER

Former Finance Minister Ruairi Quinn has told how constitutional concerns in his department almost stopped the introduction of the Criminal Assets Bureau in the wake of Veronica Guerin's murder.

Mr Quinn, who was at the helm of the Department of Finance when Veronica was murdered in 1996, said government lawyers believed the Untouchables-style operation was unconstitutional.

In the TV3 documentary Gangland Ireland, the ex-Cabinet minister said he was willing to take the risks that criminals could contest the legality of CAB.

"It was unique and the first of its kind of the world. A number of lawyers and some of my officials in my own department weren't against the idea but they were concerned it might be unconstitutional. My response was that if it was unconstitutional let the criminals take the action.

"We're going to do this. We had good legal advice as far as I was concerned. I said let them take it on. It has stood the test of time."

Legislation was speeded through the Dail in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin to create the multi-agency body known as the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The unprecedented home-grown Irish legislation gave it power to freeze the benefits or profits of crime.

The laws were designed to deal with crime godfathers accumulating great wealth by employing others to commit lucrative crimes such as bank robberies.

"When Veronica was murdered there was a vast public outcry. The sight of her young son caused an outpouring of anger and there was a demand for action.

"The morning after Veronica Guerin was murdered I got a phone call from the Taoiseach John Bruton to ask me had I any suggestions as to what we might possibly do."

Veronica was brutally murdered in June 1996, and three months later the Criminal Assets Bureau was set up in Ireland.

CAB was staffed with garda, tax, customs and social welfare officials, along with legal workers and accountancy staff.

The former Labour leader said the bureau has now been copied around the world.

He said: "Imitation is the best form of flattery and the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions around the world have now followed us down that path."

But after 14 years of CAB operations, he believes crime bosses are learning new ways to evade the bureau's reach.

He said: "Unfortunately now, criminals like any kind of virus, can adapt to new circumstances and they are now making very sure to operate in a certain way that their assets aren't manifestly observable or capable of being snatched."

Fine Gael TD, Nora Owen, who was Justice Minister in the 1996 government, said she remembers the journalist insisting she was safe after she was shot in the leg in 1996.

She said: "I remember going to visit her in hospital at the time. She did display huge courage -- almost like 'Nobody will get me. I'm safe'.

"But sadly she wasn't safe.

"Veronica courageously, if not sometimes a little bit foolhardy, got to know them.

"She wrote about their meetings with them. She went to meet people in pubs where heretofore she'd never have gone."

Ms Owen said her death speeded up the setting up of CAB, which helped to topple the drug lords in the 1990s.

She said: "People still remember almost where they were then they heard. I certainly remember.

"It's true to say that the process of establishing the Criminal Assets Bureau would have taken longer but the shock and horror of Veronica's murder and Jerry McCabe's murder made people realise we had to work together.

"It was probably one of the strongest signs of a parliament working in unison together.

"It did mean we managed in a very few short weeks to bring about the establishment of CAB.

"That's now something the whole world comes to visit and look at and is being replicated throughout the world.

"Social welfare, tax, revenue and the gardai are working together to catch criminals who are laundering money, who are killing people and who are bringing in drugs that are causing deaths. It has been very effective."

'Gangland Ireland: Murder and Mayhem' is on TV3 on Thursday, October 7 at 9pm

Sunday Independent

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