Politicians from across the spectrum and victims’ groups are united in claiming that senior IRA members are still raking in millions from organised crime - and that blind eyes are being turned by the authorities.
The claims come amid renewed scrutiny about the ongoing existence of the Provisional IRA in the wake of the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan last month.
South Armagh victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer believes that PIRA is still corporately raking in huge amounts.
“There is so much money coming from America it must be going somewhere,” he said.
He says that if Sinn Fein members are prepared to donate so much of their wages to the party - normally only taking an ‘industrial wage’ - he is certain that proceeds from organised crime are also being donated to central IRA coffers.
“I can take you to petrol stations in south Armagh that are openly selling diesel at 89p a litre - and still give you a VAT receipt,” he said.
Land is routinely being bought and sold for “ridiculously” inflated prices in the area - and Spain and Portugal - to launder huge amounts of money, he says.
“It is quite clear that there is a policing arrangement to allow millions of pounds of fuel smuggling in south Armagh.
“You hear about plenty of busts but no assets are seized and nobody goes to jail.”
DUP MP Ian Paisley is a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which regularly probes organised crime.
He suggests fuel smuggling has turned “wholly criminal and those involved could not be described as solely loyalist or republican” but are working together.
“As a member of the organised crime task force until 2009, the evidence from police, HMRC and MI5 pointed to the fact that it was individual crime lords and gangsters directing it for personal gain but that they all had a history with or had been prominent in paramilitary groups.
“Those who were high profile republicans never stopped being republican. They stopped funding the PIRA but have not stopped being criminals.”
He added: “Former PIRA gangs are estimated to have access to hundreds of millions, largely through fuel crime.”
The Republic’s Exchequer is losing €700m per year from fuel crime and HM Revenue and Customs lost over £1bn over the past 10 years; and over 40 per cent of all fuel in Northern Ireland was tampered with.
“I think many of the customs officials and PSNI officers are extremely brave and have a very difficult job to do. We did, however, hear evidence of blind eyes being turned to some of this crime and no policing of it taking place.”
He added:“For several years we have been pressing HMRC to explain why when fuel laundering plants have been raided, very few arrests are made.”
Last week SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party “will not stand” over Sinn Fein denials of the ongoing existence of the IRA.
“When it continues to deal in organised crime supported by terror then it still exists,” he said.
“The police have further questions to answer. Are we being asked to turn a blind eye to PIRA’s criminality?”
Yesterday SDLP MLA Alex Attwood was part of an SDLP delegation which met the Chief Constable.
“We repeated the need to have war on organised crime,” he said.
“The assets of no one and no organisation should be untouchable. Assets held by the individual on behalf of a loyalist or republican grouping must be pursued, be it past assets, current assets or future assets.”
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said many IRA godfathers continue to be involved in criminal enterprises. “If these individuals are ‘self-serving’ criminals, why aren’t the IRA and Sinn Fein personnel cooperating with police in ensuring they are put behind bars? The answer is simple - because PIRA and these criminal-based entrepreneurs are not separate. They are inextricably linked.”