Since a border has existed on the island of Ireland, smugglers have exploited the lawless roads that stretch from southern Armagh to the North Louth region in the east, to the Fermanagh border with Donegal in the Republic of Ireland in the West.
But smuggling in the region has grown from a local phenomenon to an international business that stretches from the hills, fields and back roads of the Irish borders to England, Europe and the Far East. Alan McQuillan, a veteran Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer who became the last head of the UK Asset Recovery Agency (ARA), said the Provisional IRA’s Troubles and South Armagh Brigade “industrialized” the contraband.
McQuillan recalled that when he arrived at the heavily fortified and repeatedly attacked Crossmaglen police station in 1982, the IRA’s South Armagh team was already conducting a series of highly sophisticated smuggling operations.
“I remember going into a house and in one of the rooms there were hundreds of boxes of powdered detergent from floor to ceiling. At the time, the Republic of Ireland, which is located a short distance to the south, was experiencing a major recession and the Dublin government had to create emergency “luxury taxes” on products, including overnight detergent powder. .
“And almost overnight, South Armagh smugglers, under the control of the IRA, started buying cheaper washing powder in Northern Ireland and smuggling it across the border where it went on sale. at a cheaper price than the official price in southern stores. . They were making around £ 1 for every box they sold in the Republic and it brought them a fortune during that ‘luxury tax’ period, “he said.
However, until the advent of human smuggling, the most lucrative scandal for the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade and the smugglers who worked around it was the sale of cheaper but illegal “washed” diesel: agricultural or household heating oil that It was treated with chemicals to change from green to red and is sold for vehicles.
The former crime boss in the former RUC, retired deputy chief of police Raymond White, began studying terrorist financing and crime while in FBI training school in 1983. Like McQuillan, White has seen growth. South Armagh / North exponential Louth’s smuggling cult of what was once a “war chest” to fund the IRA’s armed campaign into a “privatized” “international trading company” that has even recruited some of the former enemies Loyalists of Provisionals in the trade.
“Something fascinating happened after the IRA’s ceasefire in the mid to late 1990s. The smugglers under their control were producing so much illegal diesel that there was a glut, which the domestic Irish underground market could not absorb.
“So the same people who were helping to bomb England during the riots started smuggling diesel to shippers across the Irish Sea at low prices free of duty and tax. These connections that were forged in the mid to late 1990s helped build a network in England and those contacts were later used in the human trade, ”White said.
McQuillan said the rewards to be derived from the human trade were enormous. “We broke up a smuggling operation in 2005 that was running from the back of a Chinese restaurant in central London. Basically, there was an employee managing more than 1,000 bank accounts spread across the UK, which were filled with the money that trafficked people paid to come from China to the UK. In that operation alone, and don’t forget this was 15 years ago, the ARA found out that it generated around £ 300 million that this guy was transferring to the Snakehead gangster accounts in Shanghai, ”McQuillan said.
Another by-product of the globalization of smuggling along the Irish border has been the vision of former enemies of the Troubles colluding with each other to amass fortunes from the misery of others. Cooperation and collusion between some loyalists in the criminal underworld and their deadly enemies in the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade is now commonplace.
The driver of the truck in which the bodies of 39 men, women and teenagers were found in Grays, Essex, last year was Maurice “Mo” Robinson. He pleaded guilty to the killing of the Vietnamese migrants and had been promised £ 60,000 for this one smuggling operation that went so tragically wrong. Unlike the other defendants in the case, Robinson hails from a loyal Ulster community in a Protestant outpost of North Armagh. Most of the other convicted are Catholics and nationalists from South Armagh and the Irish border counties and their historical ties to the Republican-led smuggling networks along the border.
While the smuggling cult is now an apolitical “privatized” multibillion dollar business, the human cost on the side of human trafficking continues to anger men like McQuillan.
Referring to the Vietnamese victims left to suffocate in a refrigerated truck in Essex, McQuillan reflected: “They treated these people as they still treat others like them like bags of onions to be moved from one place to another.”
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