Seanad links up with Lords on Provo fuel scams

Viscount Bridgeman and Irish senators pay a visit to south Armagh IRA 'bandit country'

Senator Jim Walsh

Jim Cusack

A senior British lord has become one of the first British or Irish politicians to visit the 'Bandit Country' heartland to investigate the IRA's fuel-smuggling operations.

Viscount Bridgeman was accompanied by Senator Paul Coghlan of Fine Gael and Jim Walsh of Fianna Fail on a visit to south Armagh as part of an inter-Parliamentary investigation into smuggling and other organised illicit trade along the Border.

The Lord and Senators are preparing a report for the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly for its next two-day plenary session in Dublin later this month in Dublin.

It is believed it is the first time that a member of the House of Lords has set foot in the south Armagh stronghold of the IRA on official business. Viscount Bridgeman, a Catholic and descendant of a long line of senior politicians and soldiers, met senior gardai in Dundalk Station before meeting the PSNI at Crossmaglen barracks in south Armagh.

The three Upper House members also took a tour of south Armagh and north Louth last Tuesday to see the flagrant way in which the IRA's fuel-smuggling business is run. They are believed to be the first politicians from either House to do so.

Senator Coghlan, from Killarney, told the Sunday Independent he and his fellow intergovernmental Assembly members did not wish to discuss the likely outcome of their findings but confirmed the visit "was as part of our duties as members of Committee "A" of the inter-parliamentary body dealing with matters of policing and illicit trade north and south".

Meanwhile, it has been learned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally carried out tests for poison hydrocarbon pollution being pumped into Dundalk's water system by Provo fuel smugglers.

Tests were taken from a stream running from one of the IRA-controlled fuel plants directly into the Fane River water system last Monday by two staff and an intern from the Agency, which is charged with guarding public health.

The testing was carried nearly a month after initial findings were supplied to the EPA, Louth and Monaghan County Councils by the Sunday Independent in its exposure of the health and environmental threat being caused by the illegal 'washing' of diesel to remove the green dye from cheap agricultural diesel for illegal sale to the motor market.

Prior to last Monday's testing by the EPA - results of which are not yet available - both Monaghan and Louth Council and Irish Water were insistent that the water supply to Dundalk and also to parts of south Armagh around Crossmaglen is safe without apparently having carried out any tests on the pollution identified to them by the Sunday Independent.

Details of the location and analysis results were passed on to both councils with Louth replying that as the location was not within their boundaries they were passing the matter on to the EPA which already had details.

Dundalk and its environs receives its drinking water from the Fane system which begins in Lough Muckno in Co Monaghan and flows through Lough Ross on the Armagh-Monaghan-Louth Border into the Fane River treatment centre just west of Dundalk.

Water from the same system, which has been polluted for years by the illegal dumping of commercial waste and more recently the toxic sludge from diesel laundering, also feeds the Crossmaglen area through a pumping station on Lough Ross.

Louth Council's references to the safety of the drinking water and the 'alleged' reports in the Sunday Independent have led to Sinn Fein accusing this newspaper of 'crank' journalism and of 'whipping up hysteria'.

Sinn Fein refused to support a motion to Louth County Council condemning the IRA for its involvement in the pollution of the drinking water supply in the south Armagh-north Louth-northeast Monaghan area last month.

And party leader, Gerry Adams, who is a TD in Louth, described as 'scandalous' the Sunday Independent's reports of last month which showed that chemical analysis of water being pumped from one of the IRA's diesel washing plants contained 'extremely' toxic waste.

"The Sunday Independent published an unfounded article which gave rise to considerable fear, and had the potential to seriously impact on business and tourism in Dundalk. It also necessitated significant effort by several agencies to carry out analysis of water. All of the analysis has disproved the Sunday Independent claims," Adams said.

Adams also referred to the Sunday Independent's exposure of the pollution as 'scandalous'. Speaking on LMFM local radio last week he said the IRA was not involved in any form of criminality and that it no longer existed.

Garda and local sources, however, are insistent that the same IRA operation that moved full time into organised crime following the ceasefires of the mid-1990s are still in charge of all criminal activity in the area.

Last Tuesday as Viscount Bridgeman and the two senators were visiting the area poisonous pollution was still visible being pumped from one of the laundering plants into the drinking water system.