Belfast Telegraph

Cross-border crime agency killed off by Northern Ireland stalemate

Kevin Lunney
Kevin Lunney
John Connolly
Cyril McGuinness

By Sarah Mac Donald

The Irish Justice Minister has ruled out a new cross-border crime agency to tackle threats in the region, blaming the lack of a Stormont government.

Charlie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris yesterday insisted that further progress would be made in the investigation into the horrific abduction of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) executive Kevin Lunney from Co Fermanagh, and threats to his colleagues.

But amid calls for a cross-border body to fight crime, Mr Flanagan said: "While the intentions are positive, it is not practicably possible."

It came after his government colleague Michael D'arcy starkly claimed that senior gardai in the region had "let down" the directors at the group formerly owned by businessman Sean Quinn.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met the five under-threat QIH directors yesterday, saying he wanted to assure them of his government's support.

But Mr D'arcy had earlier said: "What happened was an outrage. It was hideous the treatment of Kevin Lunney and it should have been dealt with sooner and better..."

He added that the Taoiseach, the Justice Minister and Garda Commissioner shouldn't have to get involved "on every occasion".

"There are senior Gardai in those divisions, in those areas who let those gentlemen down," he said on RTE's The Week in Politics.

The junior minister's remarks came amid mounting questions about why a mounting campaign of terror and intimidation against QIH bosses was allowed to escalate to the violent kidnap of Mr Lunney.

But his comments sparked a swift response from Mr Flanagan, who insisted: "I have every confidence that An Garda Siochana and the PSNI are working together at historically close levels to prevent and investigate cross-border crime and the fruits of that co-operation were evident this week in a series of major searches."

Speaking last night, the Justice Minister also said that he expected further progress in the probe.

The chief suspect in the Lunney abduction, career criminal Cyril McGuinness, died suddenly on Friday when police burst through the door of a safe house in Derbyshire. But the wealth of documentation gathered at the property may yet lead investigators to the 'paymaster' behind the criminal activity.

Amid pressure to establish a formal cross-border response, Mr Flanagan said: "There is a fundamental difficulty attached to that. Firstly it doesn't acknowledge the importance of what we have in terms of the joint agency taskforce. Secondly, it cannot be done unilaterally."

On Friday, the establishment of the first ever Garda-PSNI Joint Investigation Team was announced to probe the Lunney abduction.

But Fianna Fail Cavan-Monaghan TD Brendan Smith is putting forward legislation to establish a Cross-Border Crime Agency with powers to investigate organised crime including intimidation, smuggling and human trafficking.

He claimed gardai in the region were not supported by resources from national units to deal with the situation.

But the Justice Minister responded: "There isn't an Executive or an Assembly north of the border that can process the legislation. So while the intentions are positive, it is not practicably possible."

He acknowledged that a cross-border probe "presents acute challenges in any jurisdiction and also here on the island of Ireland. But I want to acknowledge the very close relationship north and south.

"I believe it is important both the gardai and PSNI continue to vigorously pursue those who are responsible to bring them to justice at the earliest opportunity."

The Garda Commissioner also said he is "fully confident in the commitment of the local chief superintendent and his team to the investigation".

After meeting the QIH directors yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "wanted to thank Kevin Lunney for the resilience he has shown following his barbaric abduction, assault and torture".

"I assured them that their own security, that of their employees, and law and order in the border region is treated with the utmost seriousness at the top of government," he added.

In a statement afterwards, QIH said it welcomed "the personal interest taken by An Taoiseach in bringing to justice those responsible for a campaign of terror and intimidation against its staff".

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