Why Garda Commissioner must apologise
Our reporter Jim Cusack was maligned by her letter that played into Sinn Fein's hands, writes Paul Williams
There are few plaudits - within the world of media or in wider society - for telling uncomfortable truths. That is exactly what Jim Cusack has been doing in these pages for some time - exposing the IRA's fuel smuggling rackets which generate tens of millions for the racketeers who the State would have us believe don't exist. That is also why the Garda Commissioner owes an apology to Cusack over her attempt to effectively discredit him in her infamous letter of comfort to Sinn Fein/IRA.
In February more than a few political, police and journalistic eyebrows were raised when the Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan took the unprecedented - and many would say inappropriate - move of handing Sinn Fein a publicity coup by denying Cusack's investigations into IRA racketeering along the border. An article by Brian Feeney in the Irish Times yesterday estimated the IRA has €400m in assets available to it and it's members.
The revelations of the past week by the PSNI that the IRA retains a military structure has placed the Commissioner's correspondence with Sinn Fein centre stage in the controversy.
It has become an intensely embarrassing own-goal by garda hierarchy as the force, which values it's impartiality, effectively took sides in Sinn Fein's efforts to silence its detractors at all costs.
Senior gardai, the former Justice Minister Michael McDowell and several politicians have said it was not the role of the Commissioner to respond to a query from Sinn Fein's Padraig MacLochlainn.
The Sinn Fein deputy had demanded to know what gardai had to say about Jim Cusack's ongoing investigations into the multi-million euro oil laundering and smuggling operations controlled by the IRA - many of whom are also card-carrying members of his party - along the Border. In particular he focused on how the dumping of large quantities of the highly toxic, carcinogenic sludge created by the laundering process was being dumped in waterways in Monaghan, Armagh and Louth posing a major health hazard to the public.
His stories, based on several sound security and civilian sources including gardai which were built up over decades, also revealed how the Provos are heavily involved in cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting.
It is important to point out that Cusack, who has been specialising in terrorism and security matters on both sides of the border for almost 40 years, is an internationally acknowledged expert in the field. But Ms O'Sullivan, new to the post in fairness, and possibly attempting to appear conciliatory to a party which has been hostile to the force for decades, it appears rushed to display her new broom credentials.
She sent the letter in which she stated that the gardai "have no information or intelligence to support the assertion by Mr Cusack that the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure".
It appears to have been a clear, unambiguous attempt to metaphorically shoot the messenger and gave Sinn Fein a massive publicity boost in their ongoing programme of covering up and telling lies.
Sinn Fein has been busy distributing the Commissioner's comforting letter over the past six months as they stepped up their campaign to demonise Cusack and scare off any other journalists with the temerity to investigate their comrades. I have asked myself if that could place our colleague's safety at risk because there are plenty of Republican head bangers willing to cause injury or worse to anyone seen as an enemy of the Movement.
In this newspaper group we know a lot about the efforts of evil people to silence us - two of our journalists, Veronica Guerin and Martin O'Hagan, were both murdered as a result of their courageous work.
Several of our journalists including myself have had to live for many years with death threats and police protection.
The Irish Times reported that there was widespread surprise among serving and retired senior gardai at the contents of the letter to Sinn Fein. Some questioned who she had consulted her own officers before committing her thoughts to paper.
One officer was quoted as saying: "Did she consult with the officers in the Border? I doubt any of them would have said the IRA doesn't exist; they would also see bits and pieces of it hanging in there and being used for various purposes."
There is ample evidence in several garda files - including in the Criminal Assets Bureau - to at least create a doubt in the Commissioner's mind regarding the IRA's continued existence.
She could have even looked up newspaper archives from seven years ago and read the comments made by Gerry Adams about his good friend Thomas 'Slab' Murphy the former OC of the IRA and the undisputed godfather of racketeering along the Border.
Adams was fuming after the security services on both sides of the border had swooped on Murphy's little criminal empire in South Armagh.
He described Murphy as a "good Republican".
"He is also, very importantly, a key supporter of the Sinn Féin peace strategy and has been for a very long time," Adams said at the time.
But none of that seems to be of any relevance in the cloistered world of Garda HQ.
The least that Ms O'Sullivan can do now is to apologise to Jim Cusack and get back to the job of trying to tackle the country's crime problems.