Investigation of dissident republican-linked charity still unfinished three years on

A charity with dissident republican ties is still under investigation, three years after the probe began.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 1:43 pm
The charity works with and trains dissident republicans, and tries to suggest they stop their armed violence

The charity has since changed its name and continues to receive grants whilst the inquiries continue, the News Letter has learned.

The story has its roots back in September 2018, when the News Letter reported that investigators for The Charity Commission NI – the government watchdog for the sector – had begun shining a spotlight on the work of an outfit called Conflict Resolution Services Ireland (CRSI).

Down the years the PSNI had carried out at least three raids of CRSI’s premises (two in 2015, one in 2018), and in September 2018 it counted Sean O’Reilly as one of its employees.

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The CCDD headquarters, Falls Road

Then aged 42, and with an address which was witheld by the courts, Mr O’Reilly had been jailed for 30 months in 2012 in relation to what one media report called “a botched punishment shooting”.

The republican admitted attempted wounding with intent, and possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

In terms of what CRSI does, it has described its work as including “facilitating debate amongst ‘anti-peace process republicans’” to examine “the current narratives that support the continuation of the ‘armed struggle’” – adding that it has “explored alternatives” to those violent narratives.

It also provides “mediation” for people who are at risk of punishment attacks.

It hit the headlines in 2018 when questions began being asked about the substantial funds the group was getting from The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, given CRSI’s ties to hardline republicans.

The trust is a Christian outfit, with long associations with the Quakers, the strictly pacifist faith movement.

Both the News Letter and The Times of London covered the story in 2018.

Now official documents show that after this blaze of publicity, CRSI changed its name to The Centre for Civic Dialogue and Development Ltd (CCDD), effective from February 2019.

Its offices remain at the same address on the republican-dominated Falls Road.

The most recent charity accounts, covering 2020, show funding continues to flow for the charity, with £107,053 received during the year.

Its main backer remains the Joseph Rowntree trust (£56,786 last year), but another major benefactor is the International Fund for Ireland (£34,292 last year), a group set up by the UK and Irish governments, and largely funded from the USA.

All this is going on whilst the Charity Commission investigation remains open (see below).

IRSP ‘anti-fascist’ cannot comment:

The Charity Commission lists a mobile phone number as the contact for CCDD, and when the News Letter rang it, Gerry Ruddy – one of the directors and trustees – answered.

Mr Ruddy had been a senior member of the IRSP, the INLA’s political wing from the 1980s into the early 2000s.

Today he refers to himself as an “anti-fascist” on his Facebook profile.

He said: “I’m not at liberty to discuss anything to do with CCDD at the moment, right?

“On relation to the Charity Commission, our understanding is very clearly that they have a different problem – don’t know what it is, but there’s some problem about their internal mechanisms ... that might be the reason for the delay.

“So now I’ve clarified that then I’m ending this conversation. Nice to speak to you. Bye.”

The PSNI was asked if it is investigating.

It responded: “This is a matter for the Charity Commission as it sits with them.”

Charity Commission has three people to investigate 75 cases:

In terms of what the charity is being investigated for, this is what the Charity Commission said back in 2018:

“As our Serious Incident Reporting guidance highlights, where someone within or connected to the charity is found to have business with or links to terrorist groups, the commission expect this to be reporte d to us and the PSNI immediately, including how the issue is being managed...

“In addition to the onus on charity trustees to report serious incidents to the Commission, the list of matters considered reportable by the charity’s auditor or independent examiner include:

“4. Support of terrorism: matters leading to the knowledge or suspicion that the charity, its trustees, employees or assets, have been involved in or used to support terrorism or proscribed organisations in the UK or outside of the UK, with the exception of matters related to a qualifying offence as defined by Section 3(7) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.”

Now the commission has told the News Letter: “While it is understood this inquiry has been ongoing for a number of years, the investigation remaining open ensures the issues in question can be monitored by the regulator.

“The Commission cannot comment on an open inquiry as to do so may prejudice the Commission’s investigation, and any potential investigation of the PSNI ...

“There are no restrictions on the charity’s activities at this time.

“The length of a charity investigation varies with each case and, as the commission’s public concerns guidance states, a concern may take some time to investigate.

“While the Commission endeavours to deal with all concerns as quickly as possible, the timescale is dependent on a number of different factors, such as how complex a case is, what risk there is to the charity’s assets or beneficiaries, the Commission’s investigatory workload and available resources at a given time, whether other regulators or statutory bodies are involved and if the issues in question merit ongoing monitoring.”

The commission currently has 75 concerns about charities open, but has only three staff on its inquiries team.

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