Wednesday 28 June 2017

Northern Bank raid was breaking point

Eamon Delaney

Eamon Delaney

THE confidential US cables from 2004-2006 confirm what we suspected: the Government had run out of patience with Sinn Fein; that not only would SF not put the IRA out of business, but that the republican movement was ambivalent about the existence of an empire of criminality.

The Ireland Cables revealed just how extensive this was, with investments in Spain and Bulgaria.

These suspicions set off alarm bells then and were proof that Sinn Fein, at that time, still thought they could have it both ways.

The breaking point was the theft of £26m (€29m) from Northern Bank. Immediately, the whole atmosphere turned. Then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern felt personally betrayed and his relationship with SF never recovered.

The Department of Foreign Affairs got tough with SF, the republicans started playing ball, and soon we were on our way to a proper peace deal.

However, what is extraordinary is just what might have been: the nightmare scenario of the IRA being 'half in, half out'.

But then came the killing of Robert McCartney in a Belfast pub, which did huge damage to the republican movement.

The turnaround is also credit to the tougher figures in the cabinet, most notably the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell.

It was McDowell who insisted the IRA "abandon criminality".

Incredibly, even Paisley's DUP was prepared to do a deal with SF without this guarantee. But McDowell insisted on it.

The US continued to act as guarantors for the process and McDowell is revealed as briefing the US about the police raids on senior IRA figure Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and on the ongoing US efforts to extradite former Official IRA chief and Workers Party figure Sean Garland.

The US's anger over the Columbia Three will surprise those who suspected that the US were prepared to live with the re-emergence of these fugitives in Ireland, on the basis of the overall good of the peace process.

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