By Jack Holland
The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Sir John Reid on a trip to New York has said that the British government is looking at radical new ways to combat the rise of organized crime in Northern Ireland. Included among them is the proposal to make intelligence gathered through wiretaps available as evidence in court. New legislation would be required to allow such evidence to be used in a trial.
This follows last Friday’s announcement by the secretary of state of the appointment of Ron Goldstock as an adviser on the struggle against organized crime in Northern Ireland. Goldstock was for 13 years the director of the New York State organized Crime Task Force, where he played a leading role in breaking up Mafia gangs.
Reid was in New York during as part of a U.S. visit which took in Washington and Boston. When in Washington, Reid met with President George W. Bush and his Northern Ireland envoy Richard Haas, among others.
Reid also met with members of the Finucane family who have been pressing for a public inquiry into the murder in 1989 of civil rights lawyer Patrick Finucane. Family members accompanied by Peter Madden, a former colleague of Patrick Finucane’s, also met with Richard Haass, and Reps. Richard Neal, Peter King and Chris Smyth.
At the meeting with Reid, Geraldine Finucane, Patrick’s widow, raised the matter of the independent judge who the British and Irish governments agreed last July at the Weston Park talks should be appointed to look into the Finucane case as well as five others. The judge will decide on whether any warrant an inquiry. Though the deadline for the appointment is April, no name has yet been agreed upon.
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The Finucanes are opposed to the move, saying that it is a delaying tactic. Geraldine Finucane is especially critical of the fact that the judge’s oversight of the cases, which include the INLA’s murder of LVF gunman Billy Wright, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, carried out by the UVF, the beating death of Robert Hamill, and the murders of two senior RUC officers by the Provisional IRA, has no time limit.
“Reid said that the government could not under any circumstances include a time scale,” Finucane said, adding that Reid told her that imposing a time limit would interfere with the independence of the investigation.
Her concern is that given the difficulty of the task before the judge, the decision on the cases would take an unacceptable length of time unless such a deadline is imposed.
However, Reid argued that “if the government says a month, or five or six months, automatically it will be said that we have constricted the judge’s time so he won’t be able to do his job.”
“The governments are in a no-win situation,” Reid continued. “If we impose a deadline, some will say this is an attempt to stop the inquiry. If we don’t, they’ll say it’s a delaying tactic.”
Reid also criticized what he called the “insatiable demands for public inquiries,” which he said was “physically impossible to meet.” But in relation to the six cases accepted, he said that whatever the judge recommends, “we’ll do what he suggests”.
The new action against organized crime is in response to rising concern that groups such as the UDA have become purely criminal organizations. Drugs and the smuggling of diesel fuel and illegal cigarettes have become major sources of income for criminal gangs, many of which are part of paramilitary organizations. Armed robberies also increased in 2001, during which there were 600, compared to 450 the previous year. The amount of money stolen trebled in the same period to approximately $8 million. The House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland was in New York and Washington last week as part of an investigation into the funding of terrorist groups Northern Ireland. Their report on the financing of terrorism is due out in two months. Meanwhile, a bill to enable authorities to seize the proceeds of rims is expected to go before the House of Commons by the summer.