Official: US not funding NIreland dissident groups

AP News
Posted: Oct 14, 2010 1:54 PM
Official: US not funding NIreland dissident groups

America's ambassador to Britain said Thursday there is no evidence that violent dissident groups in Northern Ireland are getting money from U.S. sources.

Ambassador Louis Susman's remarks came amid increasing attacks from groups opposed to the Irish Republican Army's backing for a Catholic-Protestant government under a 1998 accord.

The increase in attacks has prompted questions about funding. In the past, some Irish-Americans have been accused of backing the IRA's campaign of violence, which it has formally abandoned.

"We have absolutely no evidence that there is any funding coming from America to these small dissident IRA groups," Susman said.

From the 1970s to 1990s, U.S.-based groups _ chiefly Irish Northern Aid _ funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to IRA-related causes in Northern Ireland, but then Irish Northern Aid threw its support behind Sinn Fein's acceptance of compromise in the Good Friday peace accord of 1998.

It is unclear where current dissident groups are getting their money from. Most of the recent attacks have been crude and relatively low-budget. Even during the bloody heyday of the IRA, U.S. sympathizers provided extremely little of the IRA's funds, which instead came from bank robberies, large-scale welfare fraud operations, extortion, cigarette and fuel smuggling and counterfeiting.

Police have recently been increasing their efforts to catch members of the breakaway Real IRA and Continuity IRA following a string of car bombs this year in the British territory of Northern Ireland, most recently Oct. 5 in the city of Londonderry.

Three suspected IRA dissidents were arraigned Thursday on charges of possessing a handgun found in their car, the latest operation against splinter factions trying to wreck the IRA cease-fire.

Last month, Britain raised its terrorism threat level posed by IRA dissidents who have also threatened to start targeting London bankers.

It was the first time the government made public its threat assessment of Irish terrorism.

The level was changed from "moderate" to "substantial," the middle rung on the five-point threat scale. This means the threat has risen to a point where an attack is considered a strong possibility.

IRA splinter groups continue to pursue violence in hopes of upsetting Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government and other achievements of the 1998 peace accord in the British territory. Police say the dissidents actively seek to recruit veterans of the mainstream IRA, which formally renounced violence and disarmed in 2005.

Dissidents committed the deadliest attack of the entire four-decade Northern Ireland conflict, a 1998 car-bomb strike on the town of Omagh that killed 29 people, mostly women and children. Their efforts to bomb targets in England ended in 2001 when anti-terrorist officers tracked down and arrested the dissidents' only unit based in England.

However, ever since the Catholic-Protestant government's formation in 2007, the dissidents have been trying to undermine the coalition with renewed violence. In March 2009, they fatally shot two off-duty British soldiers and a policeman sitting in his car _ the first such killings of Northern Ireland security forces since 1998.

But about 30 dissident IRA attacks this year _ including five car bombs detonated outside police bases, a courthouse and the regional headquarters of the British MI5 spying agency _ have caused only minor damage and injured nobody seriously.

MI5 director Jonathan Evans warned in a speech last month that IRA dissidents could mount attacks in England for the first time since August 2001, when a car bomb damaged a shopping center in London's western suburbs and injured 11 people.