Garda officers surprised by commissioner’s letter of comfort

Supply of laundered fuel and counterfeit cigarettes as plentiful as ever, say sources

Noirín O’Sullivan: did she consult with officers serving in the Border region, a senior garda wondered.

Noirín O’Sullivan: did she consult with officers serving in the Border region, a senior garda wondered.

 

There was widespread surprise within the Garda at the content of a letter about the IRA that Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan sent to Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, according to a number of senior sources.

Some questioned if O’Sullivan had consulted her senior officers along the Border before committing her thoughts to a letter of comfort for issuing to Sinn Féin.

Other officers say the row that has ensued since the PSNI suggested the IRA WAS involved in the killing of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan “has no chance of going anywhere” in the weeks and months ahead.

Sources pointed out that the letter to Mac Lochlainn was more than five months old and had not become an issue until PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton last week suggested that the IRA still existed.The correspondence, dated February 19th, 2015, arose from a query from Mac Lochlainn about coverage of the IRA in the Sunday Independent by its security writer Jim Cusack.

Sinn Féin took exception to Cusack’s reports suggesting that the structure that ran the IRA continued to exist, although “was now limiting itself to fuel laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting”.

Mac Lochlainn wrote to O’Sullivan asking if this claim was true. She replied, via her private secretary, Supt Frank Walsh, stating the Garda held “no information or intelligence to support the assertion of Mr Cusack”.

Since then, Sinn Féin elected representatives have put the letter into play when links between the party and IRA on the one hand and republican-run criminality on the other have surfaced in the media.

Political crisis

“Some of the people arrested for these crimes in the last few years would have been well-known IRA members and some of them even have convictions for [IRA] membership and terrorist attacks,” said one retired officer who investigated terrorism. Indeed,a significant number of Garda officers believe some of the IRA members who ran the rackets that paid for the organisation’s terrorism campaign were involved in organised crime unrelated to the Troubles and were always likely to continue when peace set in.

“When laundries were found along the Border during the Troubles, there was no doubt they were being operated by the IRA,” said one senior Garda source. “Independents simply wouldn’t have been allowed to compete with the IRA’s smuggling, laundering or robberies.”

Another officer said laundries continued to be found to the present day in the same areas as finds were made during the Troubles, and the toxic sludge produced by the laundering process was also regularly still turning up illegally dumped.

He said the supply of fuel and counterfeit cigarettes was as plentiful now as at any time in the past. This suggested to him the IRA structure that once ran the laundries and smuggling rackets continued to exist and was engaging in the same criminal activity now, but for personal gain now.

“The only alternative is that the IRA men stopped and that a whole new group of people with no connections to them surfaced in exactly the same little rural townland areas and carried on exactly the same rackets,” said the source.

However, other sources said the issue was “complex”.

“You could have people who were in an IRA cell, raising money through these crimes years ago, who have stuck together and carried on the crimes to make money. They were in the IRA then, but does that mean they are still the IRA now?

“I think what Noirín [O’Sullivan] was saying was that there was no intelligence suggesting they were the IRA now. There’s no chance the IRA are going to start bombing again or shooting people again. There’s no IRA as we knew it and that’s the answer.”

Other senior gardaí said the fact O’Sullivan became involved in what was clearly a dispute with Sinn Féin and the Sunday Independent over its coverage of republican criminality was misguided.“The journalist was even named in the reply,” said one.“It is easy talking now in hindsight, but it was always something that one side of a row was going to wave at the other.

“You’d wonder did headquarters not anticipate that; that’s what I’d be asking. Why did they get into any reply; it didn’t concern them?

“Did she consult with the officers in the Border? I doubt any of them would have said the IRA doesn’t exist; they would also see bits and pieces of it hanging in there and being used for various purposes.”

That viewed is shared by the families of Belfast man Robert McCartney, Armagh man Paul Quinn and Dubliner Joseph Rafferty.

All three were killed in well-planned murders by members of the IRA after the Troubles. The killings were not sanctioned by the IRA leadership but were well organised by its members, and in some cases the cover-up was co-ordinated by IRA men operating in a wartime manner.

New evidence

Frances Fitzgerald

Although the Garda could not find any such information as recently as February, presumably it will have to look again until it finds an entity similar to that described by the PSNI Chief Constable.

However, one can be sure the Garda will not find anything that will remotely resemble the IRA as we knew it.

It would put one in mind of the scenes from the hit US crime drama The Wire when the Baltimore police commissioner told his commanders crime rates in their districts would fall by the end of the year and by precisely how much.

All this while the Policing Authority – set up by the Government to take politics out of policing – is being readied to begin its work.

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