Probes into IRA assets '˜were blocked for peace process'

There has been angry reaction to claims by the former head of the Assets Recovery Agency that he was blocked from investigating republican criminal assets in order to protect the peace process.
Alan McQuillan told the BBC that his agency was only given loyalist cases to investigateAlan McQuillan told the BBC that his agency was only given loyalist cases to investigate
Alan McQuillan told the BBC that his agency was only given loyalist cases to investigate

The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) was set up in 2003 to seize criminal assets and was merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency in 2007.

Former director Alan McQuillan told BBC Spotlight this week that he only got loyalist cases to investigate.

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The documentary was investigating Sinn Fein’s relationship with senior south Armagh republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.

Mr McQuillan said: “There was a great desire by the British Government to play down these things, to not admit that the IRA were still active in crime or active at all.

“We could only take cases on referral from other law enforcement agencies so they had to give us the cases.

“We got lots of cases of loyalist crime and we were hugely successful against those – to the extent that the unionists began to complain about bias.

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“But what we would not be getting were the really hard-core entry into the criminality of republican paramilitaries.”

He added: “I think the decisions were political, not operational. The issue here was the management of the peace process and nothing must be done that would disturb the politics of the situation.”

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson told the News Letter the comments came as “no surprise”.

“I, and others, have long argued that the so-called ‘peace process’ is skewed in favour of republicanism,” he said.

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“Whilst loyalists are hounded down like dogs in the street by a relentless policing and justice strategy of criminalisation, pro-Sinn Fein republicans are treated with kid gloves.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Alan McQuillan is in a position to confirm what we all suspected – that republican cases were being siphoned out from his workload.

“It is absolutely scandalous that the Government was prepared to honour a dirty deal with republicans in order to support the political process.”

A spokesman for the Secretary of State said Mr McQuillan’s claims relate exclusively to the period of the previous Labour Government and are therfore purely a matter for ministers who served at the time.

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“As far as this Government is concerned ministers would never seek to interfere with the operational independence of law enforcement agencies,” he added.

They are determined that the rule of law “should apply equally, without fear or favour” where there is evidence, he added.

In July DUP MP Ian Paisley and SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell both said that “blind eyes” were being turned to criminality by republicans.