Raids disrupt political process at key moments
The Criminal Assets Bureau has recently made much-publicised raids of properties in Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and Louth as part an investigation into IRA money-laundering. It is just one of a number of dubious operations north and south of the Border that have occurred at important times in the North's political process. Colm Heatley reportsA series of high-profile investigations and raids into alleged republican activity has altered the landscape of the Northern political process at critical moments. Few of these raids have resulted in charges and none of them has produced the results promised at the initial time of the investigations.
Dermot Craven, whose successful business was raided by the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) in October 2005, says: “I've been here for 44 years, most of my life, trying to build up a business and in one day my reputation was sullied”.
“We still get people calling us gangsters, abusing my staff. We've lost deals because of it, people who hear about the ARA raids and then pull out. It's a disgrace what the ARA did,” says Craven.
The ARA raided Craven properties in England amid huge publicity as part of an “investigation” into IRA money-laundering. Led by former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, the ARA claimed that 250 properties operated by the Manchester-based company were in fact owned by the IRA's south Armagh leader, Thomas “Slab” Murphy.
They estimated that the properties were worth £30 million and represented a significant source of IRA money-laundering. Within days, the number of houses with even tentative links to the IRA's south Armagh leader had shrunk to seven, their combined value was less than £700,000.
Almost five months later no charges have been brought against anyone, but Craven Properties still suffers the “gangster” slur.
“My parents are Irish and I've been here for 44-and-a-half years,” says Dermot Craven. “They gave me an Irish name – that's all the connection I have with Ireland.”
“[Craven Properties'] name was dragged through the mud. The people who raided here knew there was nothing in it, they knew we had done nothing wrong and they would never be able to prosecute anyone because there was nothing to prosecute for.
The raids, a joint operation between the ARA and Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) took place on the day that Sinn Féin made its first trip to Downing Street since the Robert McCartney murder. The timing could not have been more embarrassing for the party.
January 2006: the Dublin hotel owner
It is one of a string of investigations which have interrupted and sometimes stalled the Northern political process, the latest occurring on 3 February. In late January and early February, the CAB raided more than 20 properties in Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and Louth as part of an investigation into IRA money-laundering.
Some of the raids were on the offices of accountants and solicitors acting for the owner of a Dublin hotel and a number of pubs. No one has been charged, but the raids, which have the potential to further stall political progress, have been widely reported in the media along with a series of unproven allegations.
December 2005: Stormont ‘spy-ring' case collapses
In December 2005 the Stormont ‘spy-ring' case collapsed more than three years after the embryonic Assembly was brought down because of PSNI allegations of Sinn Féin spying.
It emerged that Denis Donaldson, the Sinn Féin member at the centre of the allegations, in whose home all of the “spy” documents were found, was in fact a British spy.
February 2005: The Northern Bank robbery raids in Cork
In February 2005 the gardaí and the CAB carried out a series of raids in the Cork area which were supposed to have “cracked” the Northern Bank case.
It was announced that a number of republicans, including a Sinn Féin party member, would be facing criminal charges relating to money laundering.
Almost a year on, only one person, alleged to have links to the Real IRA, has been charged. The other “suspects” have not been charged.
March 2002: break-in at Castlereagh
On St Patrick's Day 2002, a break-in occurred at the nerve centre of PSNI intelligence-gathering, Castlereagh Barracks. Sensitive documents were stolen and the then Chief Constable Ronnie Flannagan said it looked like an “inside” job.
However, shortly afterwards the PSNI said the IRA were behind the raid and said they wanted to speak to American chef, Larry Zaitschek, as one of the main suspects in organising the break-in.
Almost four years later Zaitschek, who has always protested his innocence and now lives in New York, is still waiting for an extradition warrant to be served and has since lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.
All of those security operations took place after the Good Friday Agreement, but before the Agreement was even signed senior police assessments were already making a direct impact on the political process.
February 1998: UFF man shot dead
On 10 February 1998 a senior Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) figure, Bobby Dougan, was shot dead in south Belfast, just as all-party negotiations were reaching a critical point.
The RUC publicly blamed the IRA for the murder, which the IRA denied, but the then Northern Secretary, Mo Mowlam, accepted the RUC's word and ejected Sinn Féin from the talks.
When the dust had settled no charges were brought in relation to the murder investigation, because of a lack of evidence, but it appeared that the word of the police was sufficient evidence to interfere with the political process.