Thursday, 20 October 2005
Question 1: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the extent of criminal activity being engaged in by paramilitaries or former paramilitaries; his further views of the numbers involved; the activity involved and the measures proposed by him to deal with these activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29915/05]
The Irish and British Governments yesterday jointly published the seventh report of the Independent Monitoring Commission on the continuing activities of paramilitary groups, pursuant to Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement establishing the IMC.
The report focuses primarily on the six month period from 1 March to 31 August. Consequently, it deals with a period encompassing the five months preceding the major statement by the Provisional IRA on 28 July and just one month following this potentially significant development. It was not until 26 September last that the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the De Chastelain commission, reported on the decommissioning of Provisional IRA weapons, which constituted a major step in giving effect to the Provisionals' statement in July.
On account of these time frames, the IMC states that the assessment it can make of the effect of the Provisional IRA statement is rather limited. However, it goes on to affirm that the matter will be addressed further in its subsequent reports to the two Governments, the next to be submitted in January 2006. The Governments will be in a much better position, at that stage, to come to firm conclusions as to the criminal activities of the IRA. The onus is, of course, on the Provisional movement to cease completely from engagement in all forms of criminal activity of the kind for which it has been notorious — including violence, intimidation, robbery, fraud, kidnapping and smuggling. The House will be aware, for example, the Garda Síochána has publicly confirmed the link between the Provisional IRA money laundering operation uncovered earlier this year and the proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery.
In its seventh report the IMC reports that initial signals from the Provisionals are encouraging. There is no evidence of training or recruitment by them after 28 July, for example. However, the IMC also states that there are indications that the organisation's intelligence function remains active, although its focus may be becoming more political. Moreover, the IMC states that it has no evidence that the Provisional IRA is generally allowing those it has exiled to return to Northern Ireland safely, should they wish to do so.
The IMC's seventh report states that the so-called dissident republican groups have continued to remain active, particularly the Real IRA and, intermittently, the Continuity IRA. The Real IRA continues to be characterised as a ruthless organisation committed to terrorism and crime. It continues to target on and off duty police officers, plant incendiary devices, remain involved in organised crime and engage in acts of intimidation and violence. In the latter regard, I am sure that the House will join with me in condemning the recent, brutal, savage and cowardly attack on the Deputy Chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I am pleased to say that Mr. Bradley is well on the road to recovery. When I saw the scar on his head in a newspaper photograph I realised a lethal attack with ferocious intent was unleashed on him. He is an extremely lucky man to survive it. I am sure he has the good wishes of all of us in this House for a full recovery.
The Continuity IRA continues to recruit and train members, and it also continues its efforts to improve its capacity to use explosives and weapons and to procure weapons. In the period under report, it was responsible for hoaxes and bombs and has continued to target on and off duty police officers.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The IMC reports that although the Continuity IRA is an organisation that intends to remain active, it is not coherently organised and there is some internal feuding. Nevertheless, it is believed to be dangerous and to be capable of mounting attacks, albeit perhaps not a sustained campaign.
The INLA, according to the IMC, remains extensively involved in organised crime. It continues to recruit and train new members, and it remains involved in shootings and assaults. Overall, the IMC concludes that there has been some increase in the INLA's use of violence, but that the level of activity is not high.
I have already put on the public record my views on the likely number of persons involved in certain paramilitary groups and I do not think it would be helpful to go beyond that. In this jurisdiction, the Garda Síochána remains actively engaged in countering the threat from these groups. In particular, strategic goal one of the Garda policing plan 2005 outlines the aim of reducing the terrorist threat of subversive and terrorist activity through intelligence-led policing and international co-operation. Significant Garda resources are devoted to realising this goal, involving the strategic deployment of both local and specialised operational Garda units to counter and frustrate the activities of the paramilitary groups.
For obvious reasons, it would not be appropriate for me to detail the kinds of operational measures in place. However, as a testament to their effectiveness, in this jurisdiction in the period under review by the IMC, five Real IRA members were convicted of membership on an unlawful organisation and two believed Continuity IRA members were convicted of unlawful possession of firearms.
I want to make it very clear that there will be no tolerance for any criminal activity by serving or former members of paramilitary organisations and that, irrespective of any other developments, the full resources of the State will continue to be expended in ensuring that the proceeds of their crimes are not enjoyed by them or their friends.
I thank the Minister for telling me about the IMC report but as he is probably aware, we have all read it. I remind him of my question. I asked for his views of the extent of criminal activity engaged in by paramilitary organisations. The Minister has not been slow in the past to indicate such views. I want to know his view now on the extent of IRA involvement in the areas of criminality in which they were clearly involved in the past. Is this activity continuing, for example, extortion, smuggling, intimidation and racketeering? If the Minister is of the view that this activity continues, does he consider it is authorised by the leadership or acquiesced in by it or is it done on a freelance basis?
I move on from that to the question of the proceeds of such crime. The CAB has done great work from the point of view of recovery and I have no doubt it will continue that work. It has been openly acknowledged by the Minister and the Government that the Northern Bank raid was the work of the IRA. What is the situation with regard to the prosecution of those responsible for that and other such crimes? We have seen the IMC report. Will the Minister give us his view on the current situation with regard to paramilitary crimes.
The Government has, since January of this year, consistently stated that the Northern Bank robbery was the work of the Provisional IRA. Subsequently, gardaí uncovered a Provisional IRA money-laundering operation dealing with what is now clearly established to be the proceeds of that crime in the Republic. There is an ongoing investigation of the individuals involved in that so I cannot say much more on that investigation as I must be wary of prejudicing the outcome, pending prosecutions and criminal investigations, by remarks I might make. I would, however, discount all the denials I have heard articulated publicly by members of Sinn Féin and the Provisional movement. This House would be well advised not to pay any attention to those denials.
I am unaware of any IRA sponsored criminal enterprise which has taken place since 28 July. I admit this frankly. While saying this, I stress that the IRA is an illegal, treasonable organisation, proscribed under the Offences Against the State Act 1939. It remains such and until it changes its constitution and rules and becomes a lawful organisation, membership of it and all its assets will be unlawful.
The matter of the proceeds of IRA crime covers a period of many years. We must remember these come not just from some of the more notorious crimes. We should also remember that several retail magnates were kidnapped by the IRA and that on one occasion a young garda lost his life in a rescue attempt. All the proceeds of crime, smuggling and robberies are forfeitable to the State. The CAB and the assets recovery agency will pursue those proceeds wherever and whenever they can find them whether in or outside the State. There is no question of a line being drawn across the page in respect of IRA crime proceeds.
The Minister mentioned to me an estimate of 1,500 people who had been active in the IRA. Does he believe they are all now on the straight and narrow? Some of the proceeds of crime seem to have been "diverted"— if I may use that word — into political activity. Is the Minister concerned the diversion of such funds may continue into the coffers of the Sinn Féin party?
My best estimate of the number of members of the IRA was between 1,100 and 1,500 persons. I have no doubt that some of them were capable of sadistic, thuggish and brutal activities in the past and may be tempted to repeat such actions in the future on their own account. The gravamen of the statement of 28 July is that they cannot adhere to that statement while engaging in any breaches of the law of any kind.