Chickens Coming Home to Roost

by Henry on February 17, 2005

Some interesting news just in from Ireland. Observers of Northern Ireland politics may remember the massive bank raid last December, where the thieves netted UKP 26.5 million. The dogs in the street knew that the IRA were responsible, but when the UK and Irish governments, as well as the body charged with monitoring the ceasefire said as much, they were met with vociferous and indignant denials from both the IRA itself, and from Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. Now, Irish police have arrested seven men who appear to have been in possession of large quantities of Northern Ireland banknotes; it appears that those arrested include two Sinn Fein members, one of whom is a former elected representative. As the leader of the Irish Labour party, Pat Rabbitte has noted in a statement:

even at an early stage, it appeared that today’s events were particularly significant in the context of the Northern Bank robbery and subsequent denials by IRA and Sinn Féin.

At this stage, one hesitates to make any definitive pronouncements – the possibility exists that these jokers had a perfectly legitimate reason to be carting around UKP 2.3 million in Northern Ireland and British banknotes. But if it does indeed turn out that this is some of the missing cash, it puts Sinn Fein in an extremely awkward position. Everybody knows quite well that they’ve been lying through their teeth about IRA involvement in the bank raid – but there hasn’t been any smoking gun evidence that would put the lie to them. It’s clear to even a casual observer that the IRA and Sinn Fein are organically linked, and there’s very strong reason to suspect that Sinn Fein’s electoral successes in the Republic have been bankrolled in part by the proceeds of crime in the North. This has been having an extremely damaging effect on democratic politics in the Republic. It’s long past time for Sinn Fein to decide whether it’s a normal political party in a democratic system or the political wing of a particularly nasty private army that even during its supposed ceasefire has consistently demonstrated its keenness to maim and cripple innocents.

If the US government is willing, it has a very easy means of signalling how drastically Sinn Fein/IRA’s political options have narrowed. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parties at the White House have been an integral part of the peace process. When Sinn Fein leaders started getting invites as well as democratic politicians, it signalled the US government’s willingness to underwrite Sinn Fein’s role in the negotiations, and any subsequent political arrangements. The gossip around Washington has been that the entire occasion is going to be cancelled this year because the US government doesn’t want to meet and greet terrorists – but also doesn’t want to single them out for disfavor for fear of offending Sinn Fein’s friends on Capitol Hill. If the government wants to send out the right signals it should go ahead and hold the function – but invite only representatives of those political parties that are committed exclusively to democratic politics. This may sound like diplomatic niceties – but it would send a quite powerful signal, and, I suspect, have a substantial chastening effect on a group of people who are in sore need of chastening.

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1

dsquared 02.17.05 at 11:18 pm

It shouldn’t take long to establish the provenance of the notes; from what I read, the stolen ones were for the most part freshly printed, consecutively numbered Northern Bank twenties. Crisp, fresh and almost wholly unlaunderable (Northern Irish banks can print their own notes, like the Scottish ones, and Northern Bank’s are, to my eye, the most distinctive of the lot). If the numbers match up, then these guys were either involved in the robbery, or involved in an attempt to launder the proceeds, either of which can get you seven years.

2

jet 02.17.05 at 11:57 pm

What would be the political consequences, domestically, if Bush were to hold the party and leave out the loser terrorists? A few house reps get their gords in a knot? Screw ’em, Bush should release a public statement that the War on Terror includes fascists in Ireland too.

3

LizardBreath 02.17.05 at 11:59 pm

Your suggestion is probably a good one, but I would guess politically impossible. The IRA is one of those American political blind spots: very few people are aware of Irish politics or terrorism on any kind of informed level, and those few who are interested are almost uniformly attached to the IRA in a dimwittedly sentimental way (these would be the people I was raised by). What you suggest wouldn’t be noticed by most voters, but would enrage the interested idiots; no American politician is likely to take the political hit necessary to do it.

It is a good idea, though.

4

Rob 02.18.05 at 12:07 am

I’m just tempted to be horribly cynical about this. The prospects of any American government, and particularly this one, being consistent about its anti-terror rhetoric is minimal: any administration which appoints John Negroponte to any position cannot be taking anti-terrorism as a serious priority. Why should they risk any political backlash?

5

Rob 02.18.05 at 12:08 am

I’m just tempted to be horribly cynical about this. The prospects of any American government, and particularly this one, being consistent about its anti-terror rhetoric is minimal: any administration which appoints John Negroponte to any position cannot be taking anti-terrorism as a serious priority. Why should they risk any political backlash?

6

Jerry 02.18.05 at 12:22 am

Not only do I agree, I think there’s a fair chance Bush takes this action, or something similar. The Irish support for the IRA in this country, as a political rallying point, is certainly waning. You can’t win many Irish American votes by twisting the lion’s tail any more (ie, attacking Brit rule in NI). Rove must realize this. It is even possible that aggressively positioning themselves on IRA terror would marginally help this hamhanded administration make the case that they aren’t just haters of Arabs and Muslims who employ terror.

7

perezoso 02.18.05 at 1:44 am

Eadfuldray! astlyghay! Atwhay ayay unchbay ofyay ullday eatay ippingsay atstway. Aiseray ouryay assglay otay ethay IRAyay orfay ayay objay ellway oneday….. ehhay ehhay

8

P O'Neill 02.18.05 at 2:10 am

Bush would be doing us all a favour if he canned the entire event. Quite why St Patrick’s Day has to involve the bulk of the Irish cabinet getting on planes to the USA and points further afield is not clear. They have enough excuses for junkets as it is without the government shutting down for a week in mid-March, although given the general incompetence of the government, maybe it’s not so bad. But this is a case where Bush’s impatience for pomp might actually do some good. Does Bertie Ahern really have anything new to say to Dubya at this point?

9

perianwyr 02.18.05 at 3:08 am

I don’t see why Bush shouldn’t send a pointed signal to the IRA that they are NOT WANTED. What, really, does he have to lose by it?

No, really, I am seriously trying to figure out who he’s protecting here.

10

george 02.18.05 at 3:33 am

Who exactly are the IRA’s friends on Capitol Hill? I’d like to know, so I can lump them in with the Confederate waxers and the Castro coddlers.

11

Laura 02.18.05 at 3:39 am

Henry – I recently heard another story about the IRA and bankrobbery…

I guess the IRA has been financing its operation for quite a long time by knocking off banks. Now that the IRA has taken a rest from blowing things up, its members have been unable to return to normal life. All they know is knocking off banks, poor dears. So, they have returned to their old ways, but instead of turning over the proceeds to the IRA, they’ve been keeping the cash for themselves and building large homes for themselves. I guess some dollars have found their way to Sinn Fein, as well. Hardly a surprise.

12

chris 02.18.05 at 7:34 am

Colour me conspiracy-minded, but I couldn’t help noticing that less than 24 hours before the arrests, Gerry Adams made a statement giving himself an escape clause: “The IRA has said it was not them. I believe them,” he told a Spanish radio station. But he added: “But maybe I am wrong.”

Given his vehement denials up to now, plus the timing, what are the odds that somebody in London or Dublin tipped him off about the impending arrests, so that they could go on talking to him?

13

Chris Lawrence 02.18.05 at 7:55 am

It seems to me that Bush would have little to lose from snubbing the unnamed IRA sympathizers in Congress, who (if memory serves) are largely Democrats, and self-identified Irish-American voters are concentrated in states that Republicans don’t do well in anyway.

14

RS 02.18.05 at 8:53 am

From what I heard only £60k was in Northern notes, which isn’t a disproportionate amount out of £2.3m. So the connection with the Northern raid is far from clear.

15

Jack 02.18.05 at 9:46 am

Has Perezoso been disemvoweled or does s/he have a worrying view of the public health of Ireland?

An odd name for someone with such distatste for tea drinking.

16

Jim Miller 02.18.05 at 12:59 pm

I must have missed something in the argument. The most prominent supporter of the IRA in the United States Congress is Ted Kennedy. So, how does Bush lose by annoying him?

17

billyfrombelfast 02.18.05 at 2:03 pm

Bush would be doing us all a favour if he canned the entire event. Quite why St Patrick’s Day has to involve the bulk of the Irish cabinet getting on planes to the USA and points further afield is not clear

I’ve always wondered this too. It annoys me a great deal.

18

tadhg 02.18.05 at 2:09 pm

It seems to me that Bush would have little to lose from snubbing the unnamed IRA sympathizers in Congress, who (if memory serves) are largely Democrats)

Peter King was the first one that sprang (sprung?) to my mind. I hope Bush does snub SF, just to see the odious PK being pulled both ways.

19

gayle 02.18.05 at 3:33 pm

Clinton brokered a highly successful peace accord by respectfully engaging the two sides.

Of course, Bush is no Clinton so it’s best he stay the hell out of it. . . it’s probably best the rest of us stay the hell out of it, too.

20

dan hardie 02.18.05 at 3:48 pm

Score one- actually, score several- to the Garda. Chris, the fact is that the first arrests were made well over 24 hours before they were announced but there was a news blackout, so clearly Adams knew about the arrests before the media did. As those arrested were Republicans, their family and friends would have tipped off SF asap. I’d love to agree with Henry, really I would. I’m sure we have pretty much exactly the same views on the IRA. But whilst I agree that the Sinn Fein have no business gladhanding at the White House, the onus here *cannot* be on the US Government.It is up to the *British and Irish Governments* to make it plain that if this is proved to be an IRA operation (chances of which are on the high side) then that’s it for SF unless there is a proper measure of disarmament. There’s also a big row in Belfast now about the murder of a Catholic man in the Short Strand by a bunch of Provisionals: the Observer had an excellent article last Sunday.

I’ve got a comment on Maria’s current thread, posted yesterday, saying that going by past form London and Dublin will take no serious action against Sinn Fein. I would love – really love- to be proved wrong on this one, but let’s wait and see what happens.

Incidentally, Bush refused to shake Adams’s hand at the 2002 and 2003 St Pat’s dos. The guy who has been making tough noises about terror while being nice to Gerry ‘n’ Martin is called ‘Blair’.

In the meantime, if the British and Irish governments behave as if only George Bush can take action against Adams- that is utterly infantile.

21

P O'Neill 02.18.05 at 4:10 pm

Before the latest arrests, the Irish government was still pushing for the White House NOT to exclude Sinn Fein from the St Patrick’s events:

http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0207/northpolitics

The government also seemed reluctant to endorse the financial sanctions on Sinn Fein recommended by the International Monitoring Commission. So it’s a combination of the infantile kicking to touch in looking for signals from Bush, plus their own reluctance to play hardball with the Shinners. Maybe the latest arrests will change that.

22

Jasper Milvain 02.18.05 at 4:12 pm

Another caveat on the ‘easy to trace’ bit: £16-and-a-bit million of the original haul appears to have been new Northern Bank twenties, which is indeed the most part; but that leaves another £10m that could be more difficult to spot. I’m taking my details from here. There was £4m in non-Northern Bank notes.

23

Peter 02.19.05 at 3:51 pm

Great thread. As a die-hard conservative, this has really restored my faith that on some issues of decency and humanity left and right can be as one over the sane option.

Who exactly are the IRA’s friends on Capitol Hill? I’d like to know, so I can lump them in with the Confederate waxers and the Castro coddlers.

The most famous, I think, is New York Congressman Peter King. In John McCain’s words, the only Republican cause he has ever supported is the Irish Republican Army.

24

Cleve Blakemore 02.21.05 at 5:07 pm

After the French made the list, I knew it was only a matter of time before those Irish bastards got lumped into the Axis of Evil. Next up, those prattling coco drinking servants of Lucifer himself, the freakin’ Dutch.

John Negroponte always manages to start off with a healthy program of stealth genocide no matter what job the lad is entrusted with, perhaps the time has come to cull the Irish before their wicked plans to destroy world civilization with a genetically engineered crop of superhuman leprechaun soldiers comes to fruition.

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