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Report divulges North’s paramilitary ‘Fortune 5’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

A report published this week into paramilitary financing reveals that the Provisional IRA still tops the list of the North’s highest-earning illegal, organizations with an estimated income of between _5-8 million per year. The Real IRA is a close second, with an estimated _5 million.

The report, entitled “The Financing of Terrorism in Northern Ireland,” was compiled by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, which began an investigation into the paramilitary’s sources of income in July 2001. The cross-party 13-member committee, now chaired by Michael Mates, Conservative MP for East Hampshire, visited the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland and the United States to speak with law-enforcement officials and others in connection with their investigation.

It found that the Loyalist Volunteer Force is highest-earning loyalist group in the Fortune Five, with an estimated yearly income of _2 million. Next comes the Ulster Volunteer Force, with about _1.5 million flowing in every year. The largest of the loyalist groups, the Ulster Defense Association, is fifth in the top five, raking in between _500,000 and _1 million per year. Neither the Irish National Liberation Army nor the Continuity IRA make the list.

The report for the first time gives figures for the probable running costs for each organization. It estimates that the Provisional IRA needs only _1.5 million a year to function. Its low overheads are partly due to the fact that it no longer has any imprisoned members to maintain, thanks to the Good Friday agreement. This means that it makes an enormous profit from its illegal activities. A committee spokesman said there was real concern that much of this was being channeled into Sinn Fein’s coffers.

The main sources of income, the report finds, are from fuel smuggling, cigarette smuggling, counterfeiting and extortion.

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According to a committee member, the RIRA’s high money flow comes from the fact that when the organization, which was responsible for the Omagh bombing, split away the Provisionals in late 1997, it retained control of profitable smuggling operations in the South Armagh area. He also said that the committee found evidence of “collusion” between loyalists and republicans in fuel- and tobacco-smuggling operations.

Illegal cigarettes are especially profitable, the committee found, and sometimes are more common than legitimate brands. In a survey of a Belfast football ground after it emptied, 80 percent of the cigarettes found there had been smuggled into the North. In June 2001, the Provisional IRA is believed to have been behind a massive robbery of cigarettes in the Belfast dockside worth millions of pounds.

The committee’s investigation revealed that one tactic the UDA used to make money from drugs was by controlling doormen, who sold drugs to clients at nightclubs throughout the city.

Among the committee’s recommendations are increased funding for Assets Recovery Agency, which is aimed those convicted of illegal money making, stiffer penalties for those convicted of such offenses, and that the Northern Ireland Office and the Organized Crime Task Force should develop a way of sharing information.

The report concludes that it is “imperative that the government continue to take direct action to compel those connected with paramilitary organizations — within both traditions — to cease all paramilitary activity.”

This sentiment was echoed by David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who has been pressing the British government to take some concrete action against groups which have broken their cease-fires.

“This is as expected,” he said about the committee’s findings. “It reinforces the general message about continuing paramilitary activity and the corruption of the system.” He believed that the only real solution was for paramilitary groups to disband.

“This half-way stage is not acceptable,” he added.

He agreed that the report might make things more difficult for him with hard line members of his own party, who have been demanding he withdraw from government with Sinn Fein.

“But the more light shed on these things the better,” he said.

Sinn Fein did not return calls asking for comment.

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