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Unionist chief Tina McKenzie's father was IRA terrorist

Exclusive: NI21 chairwoman's bomber dad is being held in Italy accused of money laundering

by liam clarke

The chairwoman of Basil McCrea's new NI21 unionist party has revealed her father is a former IRA man – and said while she doesn't agree with him politically, she doesn't deny or disown him.

Harry Fitzsimons is a convicted IRA bomber currently held in Italy's highest security prison in Rome on money laundering charges.

His daughter Tina McKenzie said: "I do not disown my father though we differed on politics. He never objected to my politics."

She said she joined NI21 to try and build an alternative to sectarianism and division.

Her father divorced her mother when she was 13 and they have had only occasional contact since.

Ms McKenzie said her relationship with her father was complicated.

"To be honest it was quite distant," she said. "I am quite independent and have very different views from him on a lot of things, not just politics.

"I could count the number of times I have met him in the last 10 years on the fingers of both hands."

"He is my biological father and that is life. I wouldn't deny him, but I live my life in my own way."

Mr Fitzsimons has previously said he severed his links with the republican movement when he got out of jail in 1981.

However, last night, a lawyer representing him on money laundering charges said he had been involved in peace talks well into the 1990s which may be introduced in his defence or as evidence of good character in proceedings in Rome. It is understood statements from clergy at Clonard are being sought.

Alan Bacarese, of London solicitors Peters and Peters, said: "He was involved in the peace process with the Redemptorist community. I don't know if it will be used in his defence but it goes to his character."

The Redemptorist Community in Clonard played a big role facilitating contact between Sinn Fein, John Hume and Irish government.

Ms McKenzie said of the allegations against her father: "There is a legal case going on and I don't know the details. It is all allegations at this stage before the trial has taken place."

Both Ms McKenzie and Mr Bacarese spoke without seeing a BBC Spotlight documentary which was screened last night.

It cast light on the case made against Mr Fitzsimons by Italian investigators who have been assisted by the PSNI and the Republic's Criminal Assets Bureau.

Last night, Mr Bacarese said his client was in poor mental health after four months in jail in Africa and another three in Rome's tough Rebbibia prison.

He believed that the full trial may not start for over a year.

The lawyer added: "Because of his failing health, we are trying to have him placed under house arrest which would give us greater access to him."

Mr Fitzsimons and his Italian partner Antonio Villardo, who is still a fugitive, were named in an major laundering investigation into the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, now considered more powerful than the Mafia.

Last night, Spotlight revealed that VFI, a company controlled by Mr Fitzsimons and Mr Villardo, brought €10m into Calabria through the marketing of tourist developments. But police allege the 'Ndrangheta, which is Europe's top cocaine importer, were using the construction of the resorts to hide their drug money.

A development called Jewel of the Sea is central to these claims. A group of buyers from Northern Ireland have received limited insurance compensation but will continue to pay for homes that are still unfinished for years to come.

It is claimed that Harry Fitzsimons got 31% of the sale price of each property as commission.

Nicola Gratteri, an Italian police investigator, has claimed that IRA money was also involved.

Mr Gratteri revealed the British authorities told him they had previously considered Mr Fitzsimons an IRA money launderer, despite his claims to have severed links with the IRA in 1981. He said that Italian investigators had been tapping his phone since 2009.

He said the PSNI had been lukewarm but as soon as they heard he had these recordings "they were immediately helpful. They were the ones pushing us to investigate".

Belfast Telegraph

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