Loyalist gunmen ‘more involved in crime’ than ex-Provisionals

Top PSNI officer comments as law agencies discuss cross-Border task force

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr (left) and Garda Det Chief Superintendent Peter Kirwan  meeting at Garda headquarters to discuss North-South issues. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr (left) and Garda Det Chief Superintendent Peter Kirwan meeting at Garda headquarters to discuss North-South issues. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The continued involvement of former members of the Provisional IRA in organised crime such as smuggling and fuel laundering has been overstated by the media, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr has said.

He told The Irish Times while some former IRA members were still involved in crime and had committed murders since the end of the Troubles in the North, loyalist paramilitaries were comparatively much more involved in organised crime at the present time.

“It is a problem but I think it’s overstated,” he said in relation to the continued involvement of republicans in crime for personal profit.

“Organisationally they are not involved to the same extent but individually some of them undoubtedly are.

“It’s probably not to the same extent as loyalist paramilitary groups are involved in organised crime: extortion, violence, robbery, drug dealing in the North. But undoubtedly some individual members are.”

He made his comments in an interview along with the Garda’s Det Chief Supt Peter Kirwan. They were speaking about the progress to date of the new Joint Agency Task Force between the Garda and PSNI and other agencies, including customs and revenue bodies on both sides of the Border.

The new approach was agreed in a bid to improve existing cooperation in the fight against cross-border crime.

Mr Kerr said the Garda was assisting his force to such an extent that “it did something every month that saved a life in the North”.

He said most Republicans involved in crime for IRA fundraising purposes during the Troubles had proved better at moving into the political realm in the post-conflict period because they hadbeen different in nature from loyalists.

Referring to loyalist groups, he said: “They always had an organised crime locus. They were always as, if not more, actively involved in organised crime.

“But the difficultly is they were never as involved in politics as some of the other groups so when you have a political outlet it distracts you from other activities.

“Some of the loyalist groups have never been able to develop into that space where they’ve had a political narrative to take them away from criminal activities.”

However, the PSNI’s assessment was that groups like the UDA and UVF “at leadership level want to move the groups forward”.

Gardaí and the PSNI say a new marker put into fuel to prevent the laundering of so-called green diesel has scuppered crime gangs on both sides of the Border.

Det Chief Supt Kirwan, who is in charge of the Garda Security and Intelligence Division, said the feedback from customs officers North and South was that fuel laundering had been hit hard since the new marker’s introduction.

“The reports we’re getting from customs at these multi-agency forums that we now attend is that there’s been a significant decrease in laundered fuel.”

However, criminals involved in smuggling and the black economy have diversified their activities and switched their attention to other forms of fuel manipulation.

Evidence suggests some of those who made large sums of money from laundering green diesel in order to sell it on as regular diesel for a much higher price are now involved in producing “designer” fuels, such as biodiesel.

In other jurisdictions criminal gangs have specialised in blending fuels to make a product offered for sale as biodiesel. Biodiesel is a form of diesel generated from plant vegetable oil or animal fats.

“They may be bringing in a truck load or a tanker load labelled as ‘anti-rust’ material,” Det Chief Supt Kirwan said. “But with certain slight modifications it will actually run your car. They are looking for alternatives.”

PSNI Asst Chief Con Kerr agreed, saying the gangs involved in fuel laundering and smuggling – an illicit trade traditionally dominated by the Republican movement – would diversify in the face of the challenge to their business.

“They’re looking at designer fuels which are an alternate form where they get some biofuel markers and they put some lubricants in it,” he said.

A new all-island Joint Agency Task Force involving the Garda, PSNI and a range of other bodies has been operating since spring. Det Chief Supt Kirwan said it was still in an embryonic stage, adding it would evolve and become more successful over time.

Enforcement

It began with the first strategic assessment by the authorities on both sides of the Border into what crimes were having the biggest impact and causing most harm in both communities.

Using a matrix based on threat, harm and risk, the six initial areas of focus include rural crime, child sexual exploitation including the downloading of indecent images, financial crime including money laundering, illicit trade, excise fraud and human trafficking.

Targeting

During an interview at Garda Headquarters in Dublin, both officers emphasised the importance of targeting all forms of criminal activity that may be damaging and causing fear to communities rather than just focusing on those forms of high-end organised crime that attract most media attention and public debate.

The information available to date about the successes of the first months of the approach is limited as those arrested on suspicion of crimes are still before the courts and cannot be named.

But the results reflect a desire to get deep into communities and tackle local issues just as much as large scale criminality.

A group of eight suspects from Dublin was arrested in Newry under the joint taskforce approach and charged as part of two burglary investigations.

Two foreign nationals were charged in relation to ATM skimming in Fermanagh and five suspects with a mix of addresses in the North and the Republic were arrested in Lisnaskea, for handling stolen goods.

Another suspect was arrested for a car theft in Clones, Co Monaghan, in which a 10-month old baby was in the vehicle, with the PSNI assisting the search for the car.

During April there was a sustained operation against rural crime targeting “creeper” burglaries in which victims are at home and often asleep when their car keys are stolen and their vehicles driven away.