Fears of rift among republicans as 'Slab' loyalists blame SF for not shielding him from the law
IRA godfather Thomas 'Slab' Murphy continues to control a huge criminal empire in the bandit country of South Armagh despite being convicted of tax evasion, security sources have revealed.
They said that "very little has changed" in the Provo boss's multi-million-pound fuel laundering and smuggling operations along the border where police numbers have been allowed to dwindle in recent years.
Sources have confirmed Murphy continued to thrive throughout the eight years since he was first charged with tax evasion and for which he was convicted in the Special Criminal Court in Dublin last week.
During that time a number of separate financial investigations by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the PSNI have been launched and are still ongoing.
Both the PSNI and the Garda are now concerned the conviction could lead to a split between Murphy's IRA associates and Sinn Fein because they believed they were going to be "left alone" to run their rackets without police interference.
Murphy and his IRA hardliners, who are believed to have considerable influence over Sinn Fein, are furious he was tried for tax evasion and is now facing a possible jail term.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, his deputy Mary Lou McDonald, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have been accused of hypocrisy and double standards after springing to Murphy's defence.
Senior security sources say there is concern a rift is developing between Murphy's IRA associates and Sinn Fein which could seriously jeopardise their hopes of big electoral gains in the Republic in the New Year.
"The truth is that Murphy and his associates have been allowed to prosper and thrive in return for supporting the peace process which has made them believe that they are untouchable," a senior security source said.
"Murphy and the hard men he controls have no intention of retiring from their criminal enterprises and they want to be left alone to do what they want.
"Sinn Fein has no choice but to stand by them by condemning the courts and the judiciary which exposes the connections with organised crime, which is hugely embarrassing for a supposedly democratic party."
The recent announcement of the establishment of a cross-border Garda-PSNI task force to target the bandit country of south Armagh is also concerning Murphy's organisation.
This too has exposed Sinn Fein's double standards because the party has had no choice but to give it full support.
"A well-resourced and robust joint police agency, with tough laws behind it, is the only way that the fuel laundering and smuggling operations will be tackled," a security source said.
"But south Armagh has been bandit country for a very long time and unless this operation is sustained over an indefinite period, it will simply not work."