Sunday 16 December 2018

We are still counting the cost of €2bn price of peace

The Provisional IRA has one of the most lucrative terrorist funding operations ever seen

Joe Cahill was a founder member of the Provisional IRA
Joe Cahill was a founder member of the Provisional IRA

Jim Cusack

In July 2005, in response to a request from Gerry Adams calling on the Provisional IRA to finally cease its "operations" - over seven years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and 10 years after its first "ceasefire" - the illegal terrorist organisation responsible for the murders of more than half the 3,500-plus victims of the Troubles publicly agreed to an "end to the armed campaign".

The former head of the IRA 'Southern Command" and also Garda informant, Sean O'Callaghan, writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2003, termed the IRA's switch to "purely" political and democratic activity as "waging war by other means".

In his book, The Informer, O'Callaghan mentioned a high-level IRA finance meeting in 1980 in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

O'Callaghan said that at the time the IRA's finances were in disarray and that plans were put in place for the organisation to invest money from its illegal activities, including kidnapping and armed robbery, into "front" companies and to build a proper finance division to pay for its "military" wing.

The year after the meeting O'Callaghan wrote about, the IRA and its "political wing" Sinn Fein were at the centre of world media attention as 10 republican prisoners died on hunger strike in the Maze Prison. Money from supporters in the United States flowed into the "movement" in unprecedented amounts.

The man in charge of the finance division at the time was Joe Cahill, a veteran Belfast IRA man and grand uncle of the IRA rape victim Mairia Cahill. As well as collecting money from the United States, Cahill also oversaw the extortion of money from wealthy businessmen and organised drug gangs in Dublin. One former Garda Special Branch officer told the Sunday Independent that Cahill himself used to call once a month, always on a Friday evening, to a criminal-turned successful developer and collect "protection" money. This man had in turn collected the money from other organised criminals in Dublin, most of them involved in the drugs trade.

One of the other main sources of the IRA's finances became the organised smuggling of livestock and subsequently diesel in the Border area around south Armagh, north Louth and northeast Monaghan. The livestock smuggling was eventually stopped by the Government and EU in the early 1980s and this led to its replacement by the fuel business, which was built up and is controlled to this day by the south Armagh IRA.

Over the last 30 years it has netted the organisation a fortune and made millionaires of many of the main figures controlling the trade. The amount of money made from fuel smuggling is apparently unquantifiable, but gardai and Customs say it has long been the main cash-generating element of the IRA finance division.

While figures for earnings from the fuel enterprises are difficult to establish, the accountancy firm Grant Thornton estimates the annual exchequer losses to the Irish economy at between €140m and €260m annually.

The Garda Criminal Assets Bureau established substantial evidence that showed that as part of its "fund raising" the IRA branched into property speculation and profited massively from the Irish property bubble from the late 1990s until the 2008 crash.

It is known that the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) established detail on the IRA's massive property portfolio of pubs, hotels, other commercial and residential property, but this was in the aftermath of the IRA ceasefire and its further 2005 "cessation" and little action other than a number of tax settlements were pursued. No criminal prosecutions are known to have taken place.

The organisation was said to have benefited massively from the property boom. One source told the Sunday Independent that by the late 1990s the IRA had begun moving cash from sales of property off-shore and into investment banks in the United States. It was reputed that just before the 2008 financial crash the IRA had upwards of US$200m seeded away in one US investment bank.

The IRA also carried out the December 2004 £29m robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast, the largest bank heist in European history.

What became of all this money and to what ends it was used remains a matter of speculation. What is known is that in the aftermath of the first IRA ceasefire, the British and Irish Government, with the generous backing of the EU, instigated a massive "peace fund" to support the process in the North.

A very large amount of money was poured into financially backing so-called IRA "ex-prisoners" groups which are closely affiliated with Sinn Fein.

Around €2bn in all has been paid out by the EU and the two governments to support schemes deemed to be supporting "peace and reconciliation" in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic since 1995.

The first tranche of money, Peace I funded 15,000 projects at a cost of €667m from 1995 to 2000. Peace II, from 2000 to 2006, provided €995m in funding to projects. Peace III, from 2007 to 2013, provided a further €333m.

Sunday Independent

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