How IRA turned south Armagh into a fuel complex
The IRA and the Troubles were good to Thomas Murphy, Gerry Adams’ “decent friend” and “good republican”.
‘Slab’ has never served time in jail but has become an enormously wealthy landowner and cattle dealer, and de facto owner of a network of fuel operations and property across Ireland and Britain.
During the 1970s, he was a senior organising figure in the notorious South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional IRA, following in the footsteps of his father, Paddy, who was a member of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence.
Thomas was not known to take part in any attacks on soldiers or on the police, but he was known for the continuance of his smuggling business.
Slab was a focus of attention for the authorities not only for his involvement in the “movement” but also because of his open and large-scale involvement in smuggling.
The amount of money being raised through fuel laundering across south Armagh, and in particular in and around Slab’s home right on the border at Ballybinaby, was so concerning that the Government passed an emergency piece of legislation, the Newry and Mourne Regulation of Hydrocarbon Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order in August 1990.
The law made it an offence to transport any form of hydrocarbon fuel along Larkins Road, on which Slab still lives in what, from the outside, appears to be nothing more than an ordinary bungalow.
Larkins Road was the only thoroughfare in the United Kingdom in which it was an offence to drive an oil lorry. But the law was never used against Murphy because he never drove any lorries containing fuel or much else.
Repeated raids were carried out on his farm and extensive outbuildings and on diesel plants around south Armagh and north Louth but, with one or two exceptions, no one served a prison sentence as a result.
The IRA’s fuel business turned south Armagh into a petrochemical complex, with dozens of small farms transformed into so-called diesel washing plants. The farm buildings often rented for £1,000 in cash per week.
However, the side-effect of this trade was a disastrous level of pollution of the countryside. In recent weeks, the heavy rain has been literally washing diesel and other highly dangerous chemicals used in the washing process out of the soil and into streams and rivers.
The toxic waste from the diesel plants has for years been seeping into the Fane River and the Lough Ross drinking water supplies that feed into the water taps of some 35,000 households in north Louth and south Armagh.
Slab’s own hometown of Crossmaglen receives its drinking water directly from Lough Ross, the same reservoir that the IRA fuel gangsters have been sending toxic chemicals into for more than 20 years.
This is the legacy of the IRA in south Armagh, and it is a legacy that will take generations to clean up.