Red Cross support for alleged dissident-linked outfit revealed

A convoy for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in southern Lebanon, 2006, delivering relief aid supplies. (AP Photo/Lotfallah Daher)
A convoy for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in southern Lebanon, 2006, delivering relief aid supplies. (AP Photo/Lotfallah Daher)

One of the world’s foremost humanitarian groups has come under fire as the News Letter reveals the extent of its funding for a west Belfast group with alleged dissident republican links.

The News Letter can disclose the International Committee of the Red Cross continued to funnel money to Conflict Resolution Services Ireland (CRSI) long after police raided its premises and the Charity Commission began a probe into it.

The Geneva-based aid organisation defended its actions, saying it only backs groups which are committed to “peaceful solutions”.

CRSI has been in the news since the summer thanks to reports by The Times.

Based on Belfast’s Falls Road, CRSI was registered as a charity in 2014 and describes its mission as to “promote conflict resolution and reconciliation, mediation, and peace building”.

Its work has involved facilitating political discussion sessions for “anti-peace process republicans”, and it has also dealt with people under paramilitary threat, securing a “non-violent outcome” in about 90% of cases.

Among the things reported by The Times were that CRSI had employed Carl Reilly while he headed up dissident political group the Republican Network for Unity.

Mr Reilly is currently awaiting trial accused of directing terrorism and being a member of a banned group.

He denies the charges. It is believed he left CRSI after his arrest in 2015.

It also reported that CRSI employs Sean O’Reilly, jailed in 2012 in relation to what was understood to have been an attempted punishment shooting, and that Gerry Ruddy – one of CRSI’s directors – is an ex-leader of the INLA’s political wing, the IRSP.

When looking into CRSI, The Times focused largely on the backing given by Quaker organisation the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which has given roughly £400,000 to the group.

However, the News Letter has delved into the accounts to find other funders too, and can now reveal the extent of support given by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

CRSI’s accounts list the following sums from the Red Cross: £31,900 in 2014/15; £11,700 in 2015/16; and £35,400 in 2016/17.

The Red Cross has also now told the News Letter it gave CRSI £34,681 in 2017/18.

It has also earmarked a further £17,460 for 2018/19.

Added together, this comes to £131,141.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it “will not be commenting on the recent allegations made against CRSI or the Charity Commission investigation”.

It said it offers support to “legally constituted organisations, such as CRSI, that seek to find peaceful solutions to disputes that may otherwise result in violence”.

“Our support helps to build the knowledge and skills of community-based organisations so they can work sustainably in the long-term,” it added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the groups which are funding CRSI should now “urgently reassess the process they require applicants to go through when seeking funding and cut the money to CRSI forthwith”.

“When people donate to the Red Cross I very much doubt if they suspect that some of their money will end up in the coffers of an organisation which had a person [who is now] awaiting trial for directing terrorism and membership of a terrorist group on the payroll,” he said.

Meanwhile, East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson said: “Every organisation which has provided funding to CRSI should explain and justify what criteria the application was judged on, what scrutiny of the organisation applying took place...

“Particular questions arise over why funding from organisations such as the IFI and Red Cross has continued despite the organisation being under a Charity Commission investigation.”

WHO ELSE HAS CONTRIBUTED?

The News Letter has gone through the accounts of CRSI extensively.

As well as the household-name Red Cross, the News Letter can also reveal the lesser-known but powerful International Fund for Ireland (IFI) is also a major backer of CRSI.

The IFI – itself funded by the EU, plus the governments of the US, Canada, Australia and others –has given CRSI £420,000 since 2013, with £131,000 of that handed over since last October.

The IFI said it provided the cash to “build sustainable peace and prosperity”.

It said it only funds groups that agree “not to provide material support or resources to any individual or group engaged in illegal activity”.

Previously the News Letter has revealed donations from Co-Operation Ireland (which is headed by Northern Ireland’s former highest-ranking Catholic police officer, with ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson sitting on the board) and Belfast City Council.

POLICE RAIDS AND 18-MONTH -PLUS INVESTIGATION BY REGULATOR:

As well as the backgrounds of some of its staff and directors being in the spotlight, CRSI has also been the focus of police and Charity Commission activity.

The Charity Commission began a probe into CRSI in April 2017.

While it said it cannot comment on a live investigation, it said: “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 reported to us and the PSNI immediately, including how the issue is being managed.”

Two CRSI properties were searched in 2015, and one in June this year, by police investigating dissident republicanism.

The PSNI said: “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.”

When the News Letter previously prepared an article about CRSI, it was advised to speak to director Gerry Ruddy (who the Charity Commission lists by name as being CRSI’s contact), but he declined to comment and directed the newspaper to his funders instead, before the line went dead.

When the News Letter contacted him again for this new article, a woman answered.

This reporter asked to speak to Gerry Ruddy. She asked who was calling, and when told it was the News Letter she said: “No thank you.”

A man in the background said: “No comment.” The line went dead.

The News Letter phoned again, hoping to leave a number if Mr Ruddy changed his mind. The woman said: “This is harassment. There is no-one of that name here. Go away.”

The line went dead again.