Damage done by Murphy's activities will take decades to clean up
Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30
The Troubles were good to Thomas Murphy, Gerry Adams's 'decent friend' and 'good republican'.
'Slab' has never served time in jail but has become an enormously wealthy landowner and cattle dealer, and de facto owner of a network of fuel operations and property across Ireland and Britain.
During the 1970s, Thomas 'Slab' Murphy was a senior organising figure in the 'South Armagh Brigade' of the Provisional IRA, following in the footsteps of his father, Paddy, who was a member of the IRA in the War of Independence. Thomas was not known to take part in any attacks on soldiers or police, but was known for the continuance of his smuggling business.
The South Armagh brigade was one of the most active elements of the Northern IRA. It was responsible for the biggest single loss of life for the British Army since World War II when 18 members of the Parachute Regiment were killed in a double-bomb attack near Warrenpoint in August 1979. An innocent English tourist was also shot dead as the remaining soldiers overreacted to their losses.
The attack was the culmination of years of action by the South Armagh IRA which in the early stages of the Troubles, during the early to mid-1970s, often engaged British forces in prolonged and heavy gun battles.
British officers at the time likened the tight network of lanes and high hedges of south Armagh to the ground they had fought the Nazis in, in Normandy after D-Day.
Slab was a focus of attention for the British authorities not only for his involvement in the 'Movement', but also because of his open and large-scale involvement in smuggling.
The amount of money being raised through fuel-laundering throughout south Armagh and in particular around Slab's home right on the Border at Ballybinaby was so great that the British government passed an emergency piece of legislation, the Newry and Mourne Regulation of Hydrocarbon Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order in August 1990.
The law made it an offence to transport any form of hydrocarbon fuel along Larkins Road, on which Slab still lives in what, from the outside, appears to be an ordinary bungalow.
Larkins Road was the only thoroughfare in the United Kingdom in which it was an offence to drive an oil lorry. The law was never used against Murphy as he never drove any lorries containing fuel or much else.
Repeated raids were carried out on Slab's farm and extensive outbuildings and on diesel plants around south Armagh and north Louth but, with one or two exceptions, no one has served any deterrent prison sentence.
The IRA's fuel business turned south Armagh into a petro-chemical complex with dozens of small farms turned into diesel 'washing' plants, the farm buildings often rented for £1,000 in cash per week.
However, the residue of this trade is a disastrous level of pollution of the countryside. In recent weeks, the heavy rain has been literally washing diesel and other highly dangerous chemicals used in the 'washing' process out of soil and into streams and rivers.
The toxic waste from the diesel plants has for years been seeping into the Fane River and Lough Ross drinking water supplies that feed into the water taps of some 35,000 households in north Louth and south Armagh.
Slab's own home town of Crossmaglen receives its drinking water directly from Lough Ross, the same reservoir that the IRA fuel gangsters have been leeching toxic chemicals into for more than 20 years.
This is a legacy of the IRA in south Armagh that will take generations to clean up.