THE Secretary of State has been asked to address concerns that an unofficial pension scheme for IRA members exists as part of the peace process.
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird of Artigarvan said there is a view – particularly in border areas and among lawful business people – that a blind eye is being turned to the activities of republican criminal elements who are involved in smuggling or who are investing ill-gotten gains in legitimate property and other commercial enterprises.
A view has been expressed to him that IRA members are being given an opportunity to invest their cash – and there is a secret agreement that assets will not be seized as part of some sort of deal linked to the peace agreement.
The UUP peer has also tackled the issue because of a belief that in areas like south Armagh there is little or no evidence of the assets of smugglers being seized, despite everyone locally knowing who the criminals are. Top republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy has been targeted, but by the assets bureau in the Republic.
Lord Laird and victims’ group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives are discussing the possibility of a lengthy list of alleged smugglers and their millions of pounds of assets being produced in the House of Lords under Parliamentary privilege if the Government, Serious Organised Crime Agency and others are not seen to be acting soon.
Lord Laird asked a series of questions of Shaun Woodward in a letter sent to the Secretary of State yesterday.
“I think that it would be helpful if you could answer the following questions,” he said.
“How much money is lost to the Revenue currently through fuel smuggling and laundering on a yearly basis in Northern Ireland?
“Has Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) an understanding, which may include the Irish government, to allow IRA/Sinn Fein members to retain all funding illegally gained as a result of fuel laundering and other activities?
“What is the understanding that HMG has made with the IRA/Sinn Fein concerning the return of funding related to the Northern Bank robbery?
“Is HMG aware of any compensation scheme for IRA/Sinn Fein military fighters?
“What are the arrangements for future funding to IRA/Sinn Fein currently being discussed and which is related to the removal of the Army Council?
“What discussions has HMG had with the government of the Republic on any of these topics?”
Lord Laird added: “There is growing concern in the community about suggestions of financial support, of which the Government is aware and supportive, for IRA members who have ceased their murderous campaign.
“The view is that these republicans, many of who committed vicious acts of brutality, are receiving funding which happens to be well in excess of that paid in compensation to the lawful forces of the Crown.
“I would be grateful for a full response in the near future. The topic raised in this communication may, in due course, become part of activities in the House of Lords.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: “The Secretary of State will respond once he receives Lord Laird’s letter.
“The work of the PSNI, the Garda, SOCA and Criminal Assets Bureau shows that those who are engaged in illegal activity have been, and will continue to be, pursued.”