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February 20, 2005

02/20/05 - Open Season

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Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Feb 2005

RN 02/20/05 Open Season -A(3) V(1)
IE 02/20/05 Gardaí Recover £2.5m - Pressure Mounts On Sinn Féin
IE 02/20/05 The Fall-Out
IE 02/20/05 Sinn Féin On Defensive
SM 02/20/05 IRA Must Disband, Says Reynolds
IO 02/20/05 Durkan Attacks Adams Over SDLP Criticism
IO 02/20/05 McAleese Cancels Shankill Visit

(Poster’s Note: Check out the Irish Emigrant. They do a weekly summary of the news from Ireland. Three of the stories tonight come from that source. Jay)


McDowell claims SF leaders are on IRA council - Bethan Kilfoil reports as Martin McGuinness denies Minister McDowell's allegations

Tommie Gorman, Northern Editor, reports on comments made by Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams

David McCullagh, Political Correspondent, discusses the political implications of the money laundering investigation

BBC NI's Brian Rowan: "Hugh Orde said he was convinced republicans planted the £50,000"

Open Season -A(1) V(3)

Attacks on Sinn Fein increased dramatically this week following the discovery of quantities of cash in County Cork and Dublin. A find estimated at over two million pounds in Euro and Sterling currency was linked by Garda police to a bank raid in Belfast before Christmas.

Details of the raids remain unclear, although excited media coverage in the mainstream media has linked the find to the Provisional IRA.

The only charges brought in connection with the case has been that of a Corkman accused of membership of the breakaway 'Real IRA'. SIx others who were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday have been released without charge.

Among those mentioned in sensationalised media coverage of the raids were a diverse group of financiers, solicitors, a prominent advisor to Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and even Camilla Parker-Bowles, fiance of Prince Charles. Garda police claimed they had smashed a money-laundering operation ring operated by "the IRA". They insisted that unnamed tests on the cash would link it to the Northern Bank raid in Belfast on December 20th.

Meanwhile, virtually ignored in the hype was the revelation that cash stolen from the Northern Bank was uncovered at a PSNI/RUC police club in south Belfast.

But news that a former Sinn Fein councillor was questioned in regard to the cash find in Cork prompted the party's opponents to mounted their strongest attack on republicans in recent years. Tom Hanlon from Passage West was subsequently released without charge.

However, Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said the arrest was worrying. "This reported arrest highlights the need for Sinn Fein to come clean on their involvement with criminal activity.

This highlights the liability which the IRA are to the peace process," he declared.

Sinn Fein's credibility was "in tatters", announced Labour party leader Pat Rabbitte.

"The reality is that whatever little credibility the Sinn Fein leadership had is now in tatters and the goodwill that had been extended by other parties to Sinn Fein, in the hope that it would boost the peace process, has been shamelessly abused by them," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern said the raids justified his decision to lay the blame for the Northern Bank robbery at the door of Sinn Fein.

Mr Ahern said: "I wouldn't have said [it] if I hadn't been given the advice.

"When the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, who I have enormous respect for, and the Garda Siochana tell me their professional opinion, not alone have I a responsibility to do ! that but I have a duty to do so."

It was not clear if he would back heightened unionist demands for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the political process.

"We had 30 years of exclusion in Northern Ireland. All we ended up with were thousands of people killed, thousands of people maimed, a few generations of young people from Northern Ireland and many from the Border region living in the United States, Canada and Australia to get away from it," he said.

But he said there would be a "price" if Sinn Fein wanted to remain in talks: "The price is democratic means, respecting the security forces North and South: the reformed security forces of the North, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and working for a democratic future."

These comments are the culmination of a wave of attacks by the establishment political parties which has been linked by republicans to Sinn Fein's efforts to make crucial elections gains in May.

Sinn Fein stands to dominate a large number of local government councils across the Six Counties, as well as increasing its hold in the Westminster parliament. The election could see the party become the largest in the North.

Speaking on his return from Spain, Mr Adams said there was "a consensus among conservative elements that Sinn Fein presents a threat to their vested interests, that Sinn Fein's growth through democratic and peaceful means and support for this party, the only all-Ireland party on this island, is what is
concerning them," he said.

"If there is a matter to be conducted by the gardai, whoever it affects, that should be allowed its full course," he added.

"If you want to get to the nub of the current controversy and crisis, it isn't a crisis within republicanism, it's a crisis of confidence among the conservative parties and it's a crisis more importantly of the peace process."

Mr Adams said a "disgraceful" smear campaign was underway to discredit the party.

Speaking in Strabane this afternoon, Mr Adams said the focus should be on the peace process and not not smashing Sinn Fein.

"In order to distract attention from all other matters they are trying once again to smear republicans with the criminalisation slur," Mr Adams said.

He said there had been "trial by media" in recent days. And he denounced efforts to associate republicanism with criminality.

"No republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality of any kind. If any are they should be expelled from our ranks.

We are not involved in criminality and we will not tolerate such behaviour," he added.


Gardaí Recover £2.5m - Pressure Mounts On Sinn Féin

Gardaí investigating the £26.5m theft from the Northern Bank before Christmas have seized some £2.5m in cash and arrested a number of people connected with the Republican movement. From what was said at a press conference on Friday it would appear that gardaí had been monitoring the movements of suspects for some time. The first move was made outside Heuston Station shortly after 4:30pm on Wednesday when Don Bullman (30), from Wilton in Cork, was arrested and £54k in cash contained in a washing powder box was recovered. In the same operation two men from the Gobnascale area of Derry were also taken into custody; the Irish News named them as Conor McLaughlin and Christopher McElhinney, both believed to have strong republican links.

The focus then turned to Cork. At around 9:00pm that night gardaí arrested Tom Hanlon (37) at his home in Passage West and George Hegarty (58) at his home at Donnybrook Cottages in Douglas. Some £60k worth of Northern Bank notes were found in Mr Hegarty's house. Mr Hanlon is a Sinn Féin activist who, until last year, was a member of the local council and was the party's candidate in the 2002 general election. Mr Hegarty is also said to be a member of Sinn Féin.

At 9:00am on Thursday gardaí raided a business premises in Ballincollig and removed some papers. Two hours later businessman Ted Cunningham (57) and his long-term partner Cathy Armstrong were arrested at a house in Farran, Co. Cork. Here gardaí also found Bank of England notes worth £2.3m. These developments received massive media publicity and this seemed to prompt a man in Cork to deliver to Anglesea Road Garda Station £175k in Bank of England notes which he said he was storing on behalf of one of those in custody.

Friday was another busy day for gardaí. Armed with search warrants they visited the offices of a number of solicitors and accountants in Cork, Dublin, Louth and Offaly and removed a large quantity of documents. Don Bullman was brought before a court in Dublin where he was charged with membership of an illegal organisation, the IRA, thought in this case to refer to the "Real" IRA. The two Derry men were released without charge, as were Mr Hanlon, Mr Hegarty and Ms Armstrong, although files are being prepared for the DPP in relation to at least some of those who had been in custody.

An eighth person was arrested on Friday evening. He was taken into custody when gardaí received a report that a man in Passage West was burning sterling banknotes. It seems that some half burned notes were drawn up the chimney of his house and were found nearby. During the arrest operation gardaí also recovered ammunition for an AK47 assault rifle and a quantity of cocaine.

At about 10:30pm on Friday the PSNI found a bundle of Northern Bank notes in the New Forge Country Club in south Belfast. The club is actually a fitness and leisure centre owned by the RUC Athletic Association and used by former and serving police officers. The discovery was made after a caller, claiming to be a policeman, phoned the office of the police ombudsman, claiming that drugs would be found in a toilet at the complex. A PSNI spokesman indicated that, while this development was being taken seriously, it was viewed as a diversionary tactic.

On Saturday Mr Cunningham was released from custody. All these developments have totally captivated the country and take up a large portion of every news bulletin. So far there is no confirmation that any of the notes found came from the Northern Bank robbery so the phrase "money laundering" is used frequently. RTÉ reporters say the investigation will take months and many more surprising revelations are expected to emerge. One journalist claimed that bogus businesses have been set up in Bulgaria and Libya through which some of the proceeds of the Northern Bank robbery have been processed.

By Saturday night it was confirmed that money recovered in a toilet in the New Forge Country Club, amounting to £50k, had been stolen from the Northern Bank. Saturday night's news bulletins predicted that the £60k recovered from a house in Douglas in Cork would also be confirmed as part of the proceeds of the robbery.


The Fall-Out

The arrest of Tom Hanlon was proof positive for many that Sinn Féin and the IRA were indeed responsible for the Northern Bank robbery. This was certainly the view of the DUP's Ian Paisley jnr and Jeffrey Donaldson, and the UUP's David Trimble and Michael McGimpsey, all of whom made themselves available to the media. The common theme was that the political process should proceed without Sinn Féin involvement. Alex Attwood of the SDLP also expressed concern, saying that the latest developments "will add to the deep fears about what republicans are up to". Mark Durkan was in the US at the time and from there accused republicans of "filling their coffers from racketeering, smuggling and money laundering".

In the South, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny demanded that Sinn Féin make a comment "as to what the hell is going on", while Labour leader Pat Rabbitte claimed that Sinn Féin's credibility was "in tatters". Government ministers were also critical but refused, at this stage, to jump to the conclusion that the money recovered was from the bank robbery. Minister for Justice Michael McDowell did describe the Provisional movement as "a colossal crime machine".

For their part Sinn Féin politicians tried to distance themselves from criminality. Gerry Adams was on a book promotion tour of Spain from which he returned early. He and his colleagues accused their critics of using the situation to make political capital. Speaking on RTÉ the Sinn Féin president said, "I don't want to be tainted with criminality. I don't want anyone near me who is involved in criminality. I will face up to all of these issues if and when they emerge". Mr Adams and his colleagues refused to be drawn on the detail of the week's developments, preferring to wait and see if any of those arrested is ultimately convicted.

The stakes were upped considerably on Sunday when Minister for Justice Michael McDowell stated categorically that Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Kerry North TD Martin Ferris were all on the seven-member IRA Army Council. Martin McGuinness emphatically rejected this claim on more than one occasion during the day. When the Taoiseach was asked to confirm Mr McDowell's allegation he said he was unaware of the identities of the council members.


Sinn Féin On Defensive

Until the arrests on Wednesday and Thursday the murder of Robert McCartney (33) in Belfast on January 31 had been causing more problems for Sinn Féin and the IRA than the Northern Bank robbery. Both incidents put intense pressure on the republican movement but, while pressure relating to the robbery came from official sources, the pressure arising from the murder comes from the people of the republican heartland of Belfast's Short Strand area. Mr McCartney's five sisters and his partner are satisfied that the murder was carried out by a leading IRA member, and that Sinn Féin and the IRA were actively protecting him. It was alleged that witnesses had been intimidated, the area where the killing took place cleaned of all forensic evidence and a tape from a CCTV system was taken from the pub where the trouble broke out.

The media has been supporting the relatives of the late Mr McCartney but gave even more coverage to SDLP leader Mark Durkan's claim that the IRA was intimidating potential witnesses. After meeting Mr McCartney's family, Mr Durkan said the "full force of the IRA has been used to intimidate witnesses and prevent the killers from being brought to justice". The persistence of Mr McCartney's family seems to have finally persuaded Gerry Adams to say that none of those involved in the killing had "acted as a republican". He went on to suggest, "People with reservations about assisting the PSNI should give any information they might have either to the family, a solicitor or any other authoritative or reputable person or body". Other Sinn Féin representatives echoed this call but none went so far as to say that those who had no qualms about giving information to the PSNI should go ahead and do so. Martin McGuinness came closest when he said he would have no objection if a witness gave information to the PSNI but added "Many people .... do have reservations about the PSNI".

On Wednesday night the IRA issued a statement denying that the organisation was "involved in the brutal killing of Robert McCartney", adding, "Those who were involved must take responsibility for their own actions which run contrary to republican ideals". The statement went on to say, "We wish to make it absolutely clear that no one should hinder or impede the McCartney family in their search for truth and justice". Mr Cartney's aunt, Margaret Quinn, welcomed the statement but felt the republican leadership should go further and urge "witnesses to give information to the police". The dead man's sisters, who had met Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, had a slightly different view and thought that the IRA statement "removed obstacles" for witnesses who had been afraid to pass information to the PSNI.

On Thursday a man was arrested in relation to the murder but, like seven other people who had been arrested earlier, he too was released without charge.


IRA Must Disband, Says Reynolds

By Senan Morgan, PA

The IRA must disband and Sinn Fein must take a bold step forward into the democratic peace process in Northern Ireland, it was claimed today.

Former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds described the current situation as “very dangerous” and said it was time for everyone to remain calm and plot the best route forward.

He said: “It’s a very, very dangerous position.

“For the sake of the people of Ireland and the peace process, I want to see the Sinn Fein leadership make a big bold move forward to convince everybody that they are for real in relation to the peace process and that they always were.”

Mr Reynolds, who served as Irish Prime Minister between 1992 and 1994, also called on the IRA to decommission and disband.

He said: “The question of the IRA, they’re going to have to go out of business now. They always knew that.”

Mr Reynolds said that the Northern Ireland peace process had reached its most critical point after a IRA money laundering ring was exposed by Gardai in recent days.

Over £2.3 million, which may be linked to December’s £26.5 million Northern Bank heist, was found in the home of a businessman in Cork.

A total of eight people were arrested in the massive operation, including a former Sinn Fein councillor who has now been released.

Another man was charged with membership of an illegal organisation at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on Friday.

Irish defence minister Willie O’Dea reiterated today that Sinn Fein and the IRA were two sides of the same coin.

He said: “We can no longer turn a blind eye to criminality


Durkan Attacks Adams Over SDLP Criticism
2005-02-20 20:30:03+00

Mark Durkan has dismissed claims by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams that his party, the SDLP, has done nothing for the peace process.

Mr Durkan has accused Mr Adams of trying to lash out at other parties, instead of sorting out his own.

Durkan reminded Sinn Fein that the SDLP had consistently argued for their inclusion in the peace process.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared to pull back from his cabinet colleagues' position today that they were satisfied with intelligence indicating that the top level Sinn Fein politicians Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, and Martin Ferris were also members of the ruling seven-man IRA Army Council.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell made the claim on a radio programme today and was later backed up by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern.

However, Bertie Ahern would not be drawn on who he believed might be sitting on this council or attending its meetings.


McAleese Cancels Shankill Visit

20/02/2005 - 20:41:16

President Mary McAleese has cancelled plans to visit the Shankill Road in Belfast this week, it emerged tonight.

Her spokeswoman said the president would meet staff and patients at Belfast City Hospital, deliver the O’Connell Lecture at St Malachy’s College and visit the Hannahstown area in west Belfast, however.

President McAleese was caught up in a storm of controversy on the 60th anniversary of the holocaust when she stated that Nazi hatred of Jews was similar to the way in which Protestant parents had instilled a distrust for Catholics in their children.

Table of Contents - Overall
Table of Contents – Feb 2005
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