Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 82 - 99)




  82. Good afternoon, Mr Veness and gentlemen. We have met before in a different context.
  (Mr Veness) Indeed.

  83. Thank you very much for coming to give us evidence. Many of the questions will be based on the ACPO submission which I have no doubt you have seen.
  (Mr Veness) Yes indeed.

  84. Perhaps I should just explain that the evidence will be taken on the record and, before anything else happens to it, you will be asked to check it for accuracy and to indicate if there are any bits which you feel are sensitive and should not be published and in as much as the Committee can it will help over this because we are aware that we are treading in some very delicate areas here and there in the course of this inquiry. We had Assistant Chief Constable White in last week from the Northern Ireland Police Service and he was very frank and forthcoming and it was hugely helpful. If you feel able to do the same, given that, we will respect police confidences. Can we start by trying to measure the extent of paramilitary activity in Great Britain as opposed to Northern Ireland? How much of the income do you reckon is raised in Great Britain?
  (Mr Veness) First of all thank you very much for your words of introduction on behalf of my colleagues and I. We will certainly seek to be as frank as we conceivably can be. I welcome in particular the helpful suggestion of being able to touch upon matters when they are produced in written form, if only because from the point of view of Great Britain as opposed to Northern Ireland a significant amount of these developments are relatively recent and happily also sub judice, so there are particular sensitivities from that perspective. To your question, Chairman, I think there is a marked distinction between the activities of the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA, particularly in respect of their use, for example, of smuggling and excise evasion in respect of hydrocarbon, alcohol and other activities. Our broad assumption in respect of the Real IRA, and certainly our activities in recent months underline this, is that maybe as much as 80 per cent of their activity is linked with common criminality as opposed to other forms of fund raising. In that regard the important point, certainly as seen from Great Britain, is that in recent months, particularly in the last 15-18 months, where we have perceived the role of Great Britain as effectively a land bridge, especially in respect of excise evasion, movement of tobacco (both hand rolling tobacco and cigarettes), alcohol and indeed hydrocarbon, the position has changed and in our assessment Great Britain is now a market place and a processing centre, particularly in respect of diesel washing. That primarily relates to the activities of the Real IRA as opposed to the Provisional IRA. In respect of the overall economic structure of the Provisional IRA, I sense that you have had a much more expert view of that from our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and I would not presume to add to that.

  85. And just so that we get both sides of the story, is there any significant amount of fund raising done by any of the Loyalist paramilitaries in Great Britain?
  (Mr Veness) It is much more diffuse and much harder to read, but it is certainly at the opposite end of the spectrum. In our judgement the problem that is confronted here in Great Britain in economic support for the paramilitaries would be RIRA first, then PIRA and in the third position would be the Loyalist paramilitaries.

  86. And you say that 80 per cent of Real IRA funds are raised here through criminality. Does that apply to the Loyalists or not as much?
  (Mr Veness) Again the Police Service of Northern Ireland would have a more expert perspective than mine. In our view the linkage that we are seeing, particularly recently, in the overlap between common criminality and the activities of the Real IRA is truly exceptional. If only as seen from a policeman's point of view, it is operational terrorism at a low ebb in terms of their security. They are running risks that certainly PIRA would not have run on any of their mainland operations of which we have had experience in recent years. Contrast their attempted attacks here in the mid-1990s, the attacks on the electricity substations which were thwarted in that same summer of 1996, and the series of lorry bombs. There we saw a very high level of operational security of PIRA operating on the mainland because of all the difficulties that that operating context presents to them. We are seeing the opposite end of activity—recklessness—in respect of criminality by RIRA in recent times.

  87. Perhaps provoked by some form of desperation?
  (Mr Veness) It operates to their advantage. It is not quite as foolish as it seems because if one is engaged in this degree of criminality the smokescreen that is presented by spending nine-tenths of your time engaged in excise evasion and smuggling it is also something that may deflect the attention of the authorities. In particular, if this is a multi-agency activity which falls between various enforcement agencies, there is the temptation (which must be resisted) to say that this is merely diesel smuggling and is not terrorism whereas in reality it is nine-tenths smuggling and one-tenth terrorism. Also seen from the terrorist point of view—and this is the one that causes us real concern—is that the routes that allow you to smuggle the constituent elements of your contraband activity allow you very easily to move home-made explosive, timer power units and other terrorist paraphernalia from the island of Ireland to Great Britain. The exploitation of smuggling routes is a real GB concern and a significant terrorist advantage.

  88. How do the paramilitaries transfer money between the mainland and other overseas sources and Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Veness) Our view is that it is relatively unsophisticated in so far as we have anything like a comprehensive handle on this. I would not pretend that our knowledge is complete, but it is similar to systems where money is moved primarily in cash form or indeed by depositing with one willing acceptor of deposits and then building up effectively a credit which can then be met at the other end. In another organised crime context it almost has the ring of Hawalla banking as opposed to conventional exploitation. The amounts of money that have been needed both to sustain PIRA campaigns in recent years and certainly RIRA are relatively limited. I would also add, Chairman, that in RIRA, operating on the mainland at the moment, their need to move money is relatively limited because they are making very significant amounts of ready cash particularly by the exploitation of diesel laundering and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that they can pay for their terrorist activities almost out of the marginal profits of the other criminality. It serves that third purpose.

  89. So they are operating largely on a cash basis?
  (Mr Veness) Yes, absolutely.

  90. And therefore those who are participating in the scams keep the money?
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  91. In a sock under the bed sort of thing?
  (Mr Veness) Yes, and I would think that with RIRA, comparing the percentage of money that is disciplined, returns to the control of the organisation as opposed to leaks for personal aggrandisement, the leakage is much more significant than it would have been with PIRA.

  92. So they are not as well disciplined?
  (Mr Veness) Yes, exactly.

Mr Bellingham

  93. What is the relationship between paramilitaries and organised criminals on the mainland? In particular we have noted that Loyalist paramilitaries have been contracted by mainland criminal outfits to carry out armed robberies on the mainland because of their expertise in this area.
  (Mr Veness) It is an emerging picture. The depiction of the Loyalists as sub-contractors in respect of gangster activity both in this city and in others is true but in our judgement relatively limited, if I can reflect upon the cases where that has been significant in Bermondsey and elsewhere. The development that is a primary cause for concern, particularly in a contemporary sense, is the overlap with the scenario that I have depicted of paramilitaries, particularly RIRA, coming to the mainland of Great Britain because their ability to exploit the economic market place of the island of Ireland is now limited, whereas Great Britain and indeed mainland Europe represent a much more lucrative and exploitative market place, they themselves being linked into common criminality. * * * we see a very close linkage between common criminality and the activities of RIRA.

  94. When you talk about these gangs on the mainland, are there occasions when they do not know that they are assisting terrorism, would you say?
  (Mr Veness) That would be highly dubious. Such is the activity that it would be surprising if they were surprised. Why do they do it? There are two extremes. One is that in terms of criminal extortion and coercion the name of a paramilitary organisation is a negotiating asset in winning that assistance, and also because the scale of the activity of, for example, RIRA on the mainland may not carry with it that degree of opprobrium that some common criminals would regard as unthinkable to be associated with. In fact, the economic gain might outweigh the disadvantage of a bomb or two.

  95. What differences, if any, are there in the pattern of paramilitary fund raising on the mainland as compared with Northern Ireland, would you say?
  (Mr Veness) To say that we will always be a side show would be too small a description, but the bulk of the activity is going by definition to occur in the areas where the paramilitaries can bring to bear extortion, fear, threat and coercion. That will always be different here on the mainland. Not only that: our capability for multi-agency activity across the various law enforcement responsibilities will always be ahead of that which can ever be enjoyed by our colleagues within the Province, by definition of the operating environment.

Mr Clarke

  96. On the point raised by Mr Bellingham a few moments ago in respect of the relationship between the paramilitaries and organised criminals on the mainland, in your opening remarks you said that you tended to prioritise activity in respect of RIRA and PIRA and then that carried out by the Loyalist paramilitaries. Evidence that we have received suggests that in particular Loyalist paramilitaries have been engaged in or even contracted out to organised criminal gangs on the mainland to carry out armed robberies. Could you confirm that that is the case?
  (Mr Veness) I am not disputing that for one moment. There are one or two notorious cases where contract killing and involvement in serious robbery have occurred. I am not in any way dissenting from that, sir. All I was suggesting was that seen from Great Britain our major concern is the bomb that is killing British citizens and therefore, although that has been episodic, we must be focused upon that which is causing public harm and that is at the moment the Real IRA.

  97. I asked only because one of our desires is to try to form a pattern as to how differing groups, irrespective of whether they are Loyalist or Republican, are accessing their terrorist funds. I am just trying to get a pattern of who is doing what and in which particular field.
  (Mr Veness) To be fair, it is probably rather more of what we do not know about Loyalist activity here in Great Britain in that particular context. That is for the probably understandable reason that historically Loyalism has not taken the form of terrorism in Great Britain. There are a great deal of logistic supplies for financing, etc, etc, but the bombs that kill people in Great Britain are Republican bombs and thus that has been the proper prioritisation of GB law enforcement, which is not to say that we are not active supporters of everything that is done by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Garda Sochana.

Mark Tami

  98. On that point again, when they are building up these networks with organised crime, do you see that as ongoing or are they moving around and going into different sorts of activities or, once they have got somebody on board, is that it, they are in for the duration?
  (Mr Veness) It is possible to see both structure and opportunism, structure in terms of networks that have been in place that have supported PIRA activity in Great Britain historically, and one or two of those figures we suspect are providing assistance to the evolving RIRA structures. We must be cognisant of that and we have one or two indicators that that could well be the position. It is also opportunistic in the sense that a particular venue may be regarded as critical to a particular activity (and again sub judice) for example, the farm in West Yorkshire last autumn, which was in the clutches of a particular individual. It suited RIRA, we would allege, to take advantage of that opportunity in order not only to gain a diesel laundering facility of some magnitude but also, we would suggest, a base for terrorist logistics in order to move men and material to the mainland. We see a rather more unhelpfully complex picture of all of those possibilities.

The Reverend Martin Smyth

  99. I would appreciate, following through that answer, that you have noticed that there are contacts because over the years it has not only been between elements of Republicanism, but even between elements of Loyalism, that they have consorted together for particular purposes.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

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