Key republican player linked to US 'supernotes'

Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 00:00

Profile:Despite being one of the dominant figures in republican and far-left politics for more than half a century, Seán Garland has mostly stayed out of the public eye.

Born in inner-city Dublin on March 7th, 1934, his revolutionary career started in 1953 when he joined the Irish Republican Army.

Those were the days of simple, no-frills republicanism when the object was to get the “Brits” out of the North by military means and the political and social make-up of a united Ireland was largely for another day.

The following year, the young activist briefly joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers to gather intelligence on Gough Barracks in Armagh.

IRA raid

This led to a successful IRA raid with a haul that included 250 rifles, 37 Sten guns and seven Bren guns.

The IRA Border campaign was launched in December 1956 and on New Year’s Day 1957 Garland led the ill-fated attack on the barracks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh.

The deaths of Seán South (28) and Fergal O’Hanlon (20) in that raid later became the subjects of popular republican ballads. Garland himself was seriously wounded but recovered and was then jailed in Mountjoy.

Released in 1959 he went to Belfast to work undercover for the IRA but was arrested and sentenced to four years in Crumlin Road jail.

Along with Cathal Goulding and Tomás Mac Giolla, the lesson Garland drew from the doomed 1950s campaign was that the republican movement needed to build up popular support and involvement.

They began to move towards the Marxist end of the political spectrum as well as seeking to end the policy of abstentionism, whereby Sinn Féin candidates ran for election but refused to take their seats if they won.

Leading figure

At the outbreak of the Troubles, the IRA and Sinn Féin split between Official and Provisional wings, with Garland a leading figure on the Official or “Sticky” side.

The Officials called a ceasefire in May 1972 (except for “self-defence”) and its weapons were mainly used thereafter in feuds with the Provisionals and the breakaway Irish National Liberation Army (INLA); they were also accused of using them for a range of illegal fund-raising activities.

Garland was badly wounded in an INLA assassination attempt in March 1975 in Ballymun.

Elected general secretary of Official Sinn Féin, Garland successfully proposed in 1977 that the organisation be renamed Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party. Five years later, the Sinn Féin prefix was dropped.

The WP was running out of funds in the mid-1980s. A letter – about which there has been much dispute and controversy over its authority – to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union explained that “the bulk of the shortfall has been met by ‘special activities’ of which it is not possible to detail here because of reasons we are sure you will understand”.

Grant refused

The letter, subsequently disclosed in this newspaper by Moscow correspondent Seamus Martin, requested “a grant of one million pounds (Irish)” over a five-year period, but this was refused.

The document was in the names of Garland and Proinsias De Rossa but the latter denied all knowledge of it and described it as a forgery which was not authorised by the WP.

In 1992, six of the WP’s seven Dáil deputies, including De Rossa, split off to set up Democratic Left, which eventually merged with the Labour Party.

At the end of the decade, Garland became the subject of allegations that he was part of a forgery scheme involving the Stalinist regime in North Korea whereby fake US dollars would be exchanged for genuine banknotes. A US court indictment in 2005 said seven men, including Garland, distributed the $100 “supernotes”. The US authorities sought the extradition of Garland, who denied the charge.

A press conference in July 2011 was attended by TDs from Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Technical Group, who opposed the extradition of Garland to the US over allegations that he had taken part in a counterfeiting operation involving North Korea and the Russian mafia.

Forgery and distribution

In an affidavit to the High Court, Brenda Johnson, assistant US attorney, said one of Garland’s alleged co-conspirators had told investigators he had purchased more than $250,000 of “supernotes” from “the Garland organisation”.

The Americans contended the forgery and distribution of the $100 notes was part of a Marxist bid to destabilise the dollar. The allegations against Mr Garland related mostly to 1999 and 2000.

The extradition application was rejected in December 2012 by the High Court which ruled that the alleged offence should be prosecuted in Ireland and referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The latest document to come to light from the archives of the Communist rulers of the former German Democratic Republic is similar in tone and content to the 1986 “Moscow Letter” except “illegal means” is used instead of “special activities”.

The WP remains in existence as a politically active formation on the left, although the lack of parliamentary representation means it gets limited public attention.