By Ray O’Hanlon
Paramilitary groups on both sides of the border in Ireland import and trade in drugs but they don’t deal narcotics on the world market, according to U.S. investigators.
Federal investigators working for the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, have determined that "some" loyalist and republican paramilitary groups "are engaged in street-level narcotics dealing in such drugs as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.
A report on paramilitary drug dealing, compiled by agents from the GAO’s Office of Special Investigations and submitted to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, also links various groups, republican and loyalist, to a wider array of criminal activity, including smuggling, tax fraud and money laundering.
Of particular interest is the fact that the report points to the continued existence and activity of the Official IRA, an organization thath has maintained a particularly low profile in recent years, although it reportedly split into two factions in 1997.
The Officials, are "expert at international financial crimes, including tax fraud schemes, money laundering and counterfeiting," the report states.
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Drawing on interviews conducted with Irish and British law-enforcement agencies as well as "other corroborating sources," the GAO investigators ruled out an international dimension to paramilitary drug dealing — at least for the time being.
The report links both loyalist and republican groups to street-level drug dealing in areas of Northern Ireland over which they exercise control.
The loyalist groups are "not as sophisticated as Republican terrorist organizations and do not have access to the same international network of terrorist and criminal connections," the report states.
Perhaps as a result of this view, the report concentrates more heavily on republican, as opposed to loyalist, paramilitary groups.
The report focuses on Direct Action Against Drugs, widely seen as a cover name for the Provisional IRA. It cites the view of "police officials" who contend that the killings carried by and acknowledged by DAAD result from drug dealers failing to pay "protection money" to the Provisional IRA.
"Further, counter to the Provisional IRA’s official anti-drug position, individual members of the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA, and the Real IRA, are known to engage in drug smuggling/dealing activities. The Irish National Liberation Army also regularly engages in street-level drug dealing," the report concludes.
The Provisional IRA, according to the report, "has been very successful in smuggling weapons into the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The terrorist group also controls the smuggling of untaxed tobacco products, untaxed liquor and counterfeit consumer goods eg. CDs, videotapes, watches and clothing, into Northern Ireland."
Again referring to Ireland-based law-enforcement sources, the report concludes that the "eventual large-scale international smuggling of narcotics may be the natural progression" of the various criminal activities currently being undertaken by republican and loyalist groups.
The report on the paramilitaries follows another recent GAO report that concluded that Ireland, North and South, was not presently a major international transshipment point for the worldwide illegal drugs trade.