Ex-top officer defends funding for group with alleged dissident links

Peter Sheridan
Peter Sheridan

A former top policeman has defended his charity’s decision to give a large slab of cash to a group with alleged dissident republican links.

Ex-assistant chief constable Peter Sheridan, who was the highest-ranking Catholic policeman in the Province, said the money was used for a programme he hoped would persuade paramilitaries to reject the gun.

The group in question is the registered charity Conflict Resolution Services (Ireland), or CRSI, which describes itself as working with “anti-peace process” republicans.

It describes its mission as to “promote conflict resolution and reconciliation, mediation, and peace building”.

Mr Sheridan’s own charity Co-Operation Ireland (which includes ex-first minister Peter Robinson on the board) is one of a raft of bodies to have funded CRSI in recent years.

It has been reported that in 2015, CRSI employed the head of dissident group the Republican Network for Unity, Carl Reilly, who was arrested on suspicion of directing terrorism and belonging to an illegal organisation. He denies the charges and is currently awaiting trial. He reportedly left CRSI after his arrest.

CRSI currently employs Sean O’Reilly, who it is understood was jailed in 2012 in relation to an attempted punishment shooting.

Gerry Ruddy, one of CRSI’s directors, is also understood to be a former leader of the INLA’s political wing, the IRSP.

Mr Sheridan said the work of dissuading people from violence inherently means “you’re not dealing with a group of nuns”.

Today Mr Sheridan OBE is chief executive of Co-Operation Ireland. He had served 32 years in the police, and retired in 2008. His work included anti-terror investigations.

He said his charity gave CRSI money for a programme to facilitate dialogue with dissidents, a scheme which involved other organisations as well as CRSI.

“The idea of the programme at the time was Ronan Kerr had just been murdered,” he said.

“The idea was: how do you continue to hone out people who want to use violence? The idea was just to continue to build that dialogue into it, to persuade them there’s a different way of doing it to get your point across.”

Asked if, as an ex-anti-terror officer, it sits uneasily with him that Co-Operation Ireland cash is ending up with a group which was believed to be employing a man accused of being a terrorist commander until recently, he replied: “I’ll tell you what sits uneasily with me first of all – the murder of Ronan Kerr, David Black, and Adrian Ismay.

“I’m trying to prevent future murders in this. We set out on the process of dialogue with these guys to get them off that path.

“Working with terrorists as I’ve done over the years, working with people who I know murdered colleagues, of course doesn’t sit easy with me. But if it is successful at preventing the murder of other colleagues in the future, then you have to make a go of it.”

In addition to “facilitating debate amongst ‘anti-peace process republicans’”, CRSI has also said it works with people who “may be at risk of punishments outside the criminal justice system” to “resolve and remove threat”.

‘OUR AIM IS TO MAKE THESE PEOPLE LIKE SF’:

It was put to Mr Sheridan that if you let people debate the legitimacy of violence, some could emerge supporting it, rather than vice versa.

“If people were never going to be persuaded, they’re never going to be persuaded,” he said.

“But by and large dialogue does work. It’s very easy to put all these guys in a corner and hope they go away. It’s not the history of conflict.

“What you’ve to do is get your hands dirty in the middle of it and take them off that path, and they end up on a democratic path as has happened with Sinn Fein.”

He said “there are people who are going to be in that dialogue who are going to be pro the argument of using violence, but also that there are credible voices we’d try and put in that room that’d make the other argument”.

WE MONITOR FUNDING ‘LIKE HAWKS’:

Following a report by The Times of London last month, drawing attention to the wave of funding given to CRSI by Quaker charity the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (amounting to just under £389,000 from 2012 to present), the News Letter has delved into other funding the group gets.

In two sets of recent accounts which are currently available, CRSI lists funding from Co-Operation Ireland.

For the year ending March 31, 2015, the accounts show £20,550 from Co-Operation Ireland, and for the year ending March 31, 2014, the sum is £19,347.

There is no mention of it giving money in the two years’ accounts before that, or in the most recent ones for 2017.

Mr Sheridan said the board of Co-Operation Ireland includes major figures such as ex-taoiseach John Bruton, Peter Robinson, and SDLP veteran Mark Durkan, and that when it comes to looking at where funding is going, they all “watch it like a hawk” so that “it goes into a place we know we can verify, and isn’t sniffed up people’s noses or used for other activities”.

Meanwhile, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has refused to rule out providing a £120,000 tranche of cash earmarked for CRSI from this year onwards, despite the recent publicity.

CRSI IN AUTHORITIES’ SPOTLIGHT:

CRSI is under investigation by the Charity Commission.

Its premises were searched by police both in 2015 and this year.

The police were asked if they were investigating CRSI, and responded: “Detectives from Serious Crime Branch conducting an ongoing investigation into dissident republican terrorist activity have been in contact with the Charity Commission. Should any criminal offences be identified, police will take appropriate action.”

In the wake of an article by The Times about CRSI and major funders the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the News Letter contacted CRSI, and was advised to speak to director Gerry Ruddy.

He said: “Right, I’ve no comment on anything you’re going to ask me, ok? No comment... If you contact our funders, they’re dealing with it, the Rowntree trust. Ok?”

The line then went dead.