19 January 2006

Unionist: IRA must surrender acquisitions


18/01/2006 - 17:15:17

The IRA must surrender every property, piece of land or business it has acquired over five decades if Sinn Féin is to have a future policing or justice minister in Northern Ireland, a unionist claimed tonight.

After meeting US Congressmen in Belfast, Ulster Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Fred Cobain MLA warned the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) that it must not ignore any ill-gotten gains republicans may have amassed before last July’s IRA statement declaring an end to its armed campaign.

As NIO Security Minister Shaun Woodward faced calls for him to quit over claims that the Provisionals are still involved in criminality, Mr Cobain said the British government must not be allowed to sweep under the carpet the vast criminal empire the IRA had constructed since 1969.

“What the British Government is trying to do is play smoke and mirrors with this issue and say that criminality has ended from last July,” the North Belfast Assembly member said.

“Any of the criminality and ill-gotten gains before that could be swept under the carpet. There is no way unionists are going to accept that.

“Criminality in all its forms must end and that means the criminal empire that the Provisionals have built is going to have to be brought some way into the light for the police to deal with.

“Every piece of property, piece of land, business will have to be surrendered.

“They have a financial empire. We have seen that in some of the money-laundering stuff it is very sophisticated. Are we going to allow that to continue just because it was before the IRA statement in July 2005?

“The fact is these people could be ministers for justice and policing in a future Stormont administration. There is no way any other democratic society would allow this situation to continue.”

Sinn Féin has been pressing for the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to a future government at Stormont as a pre-requisite for any move it may make on joining the Policing Board in Northern Ireland.

That would mean a Sinn Féin or unionist minister assuming responsibility in a devolved government for justice or policing issues.

Unionists insist they will not sanction the transfer of those powers until they are sure IRA criminality is over for good.

British government sources tonight said Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain was concerned that sensitive information from yesterday’s confidential briefing to the Policing Board had been leaked publicly within two hours.

In a statement, the chairman of the Policing Board Sir Desmond Rea said he was also disappointed that the confidence of the meeting had been breached.

“By definition private and confidential briefings are based on trust,” he said.

“If the initial breach of confidentiality in respect of yesterday’s briefing emanated from a member of this board, I have no doubt that the vast majority of the board will be disappointed to say the least.

“This breach, regardless of where it emanated, has damaged that trust and that is a matter of regret.”

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