Ministers meet to discuss IRA money-laundering probe

21/02/2005 - 07:01:26

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy will meet today to discuss the cross-border battle to smash a massive IRA money-laundering racket.

The pair will review the joint drive against the IRA 24 hours before Mr Murphy tells the British House of Commons what sanctions he will take against Sinn Fein over the £26m (€38m) Northern Bank heist.

His statement follows a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission that the IRA carried out the robbery and leading members of Sinn Féin knew of and sanctioned the robbery.

As the two senior government ministers meet at Hillsborough Castle, near Belfast, the only man charged in connection with the money laundering ring is to lodge an application for bail at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.

Don Bullman, a chef from Fernwood Crescent, Leghanamore, Wilton, Co Cork, was charged with membership of the IRA after detectives found €78,000 (£54,000) hidden in a washing powder box in a car he was travelling in.

Six other people arrested as part of the huge investigation have been released.

As top detectives from north and south of the border, fraud squad officers, and members of the Criminal Assets Bureau continue to examine all aspects of the money-laundering ring, Mr Murphy is being pressed by unionists to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and to exclude Sinn Féin. But he is more likely to take financial sanctions.

Removing parliamentary allowances from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and party chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and their two fellow Sinn Féin MPs could hit them to the tune of €725,000.

Mr McDowell and Mr Murphy will meet when they attend the signing of a ground-breaking agreement between Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy and the Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde which will herald the exchange of officers.

Under the joint protocols they sign – first proposed in the Patten Report on the reform of policing in the North - personnel exchanges and secondments will be introduced.

The exchanges increase the high level of collaboration which currently exist between the two police services.

Meanwhile, the republican movement has been left reeling by alleged links to the Northern Bank heist and money-laundering. Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have been facing up to accusations from the Government of being members of the IRA’s seven-man ruling Army Council.

Mr McDowell said Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness – and TD Martin Ferris, were three of the members of the seven-man council.

Others have suggested the three men were involved at the top of the IRA but Mr McDowell was the first to make the direct accusation.

“We’re talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole [Republican] movement,” he said.

“We are talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others,” said Mr McDowell.

The Minister spoke out as the republican movement reeled from the worst crisis it has faced in years following raids by gardaí which netted more than £2.3m (€3.3m) they linked to an IRA money-laundering ring.

Forensic tests are still being carried out to see if the money came from the £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank raid in Belfast, which the IRA has been accused of carrying out, but denies.

Meanwhile, Mr McDowell said many professions – solicitors, accountants and financiers - had played a part in the criminal operation north and south of the border.

“Many people are sucked into it, some wittingly and some unwittingly,” he said, adding there was a “deep, deep dishonesty that goes to the very heart of the republican movement”.

Martin McGuinness made an immediate denial that either he or his party colleagues were on the IRA Army Council.

“It’s not true. I reject it completely. What he has alleged is totally and utterly false. I’m not a member of the IRA. I’m not a member of the IRA Army Council,” he insisted but admitted his past again saying: “I was a member of the IRA many years ago”.

Soon after Mr McDowell made his accusations, Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said it was time the leadership of Sinn Féin came clean about their links to the IRA.

He said: “We are absolutely satisfied that the leadership of Sinn Féin and the IRA are interlinked…they are two sides of the one coin.”

He reaffirmed Mr McDowell’s statement that garda intelligence had revealed that prominent Sinn Féin members had seats on the IRA Army Council.

“It was quite obvious to us from all of this intelligence that, in particular in recent times, that there was an interlinking and inter-weaving of the situation from a decision point of view,” said Mr Ahern.

He also hit out at IRA links to cross-border smuggling and robberies and said it was inconceivable to think the IRA was not involved in the Northern Bank robbery.

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