The RUC couldn’t prove the Provos were taxing members of the republican movement who were “doing the double” to pay for guns and explosives and make local active service units self-financing back in the 1980s.
The police force said they had intelligence that the IRA were shaving 10 per cent of members’ income from social security fraud to fund its armed campaign, according to declassified secret documents newly published by the Conflict Archive Northern Ireland and PRONI.
The files reveal senior Northern Ireland Office officials were unimpressed by the RUC’s inability to provide hard evidence dole income was being used to fund IRA operations.
A secret memo dated July 16, 1987, shows the Secretary of State, Tom King, wanted to raise “the issue of alleged social security fraud by PIRA in border areas” with his Irish counterparts.
Senior official SJ Leach from the NIO Security and International Liaison division forwarded the secret briefing document, entitled “Social Security Fraud by Provisional IRA ‘Doing the Double,’” which had been compiled by the NIO’s’ Law and Order Division.
Mr King was advised: “Investigations by the RUC have indicated that in border areas in particular PIRA is extracting a levy from members of the Provisional movement who are “doing the double,” ie. claiming social security or unemployment benefits while working.
“It is believed that in many cases benefit is claimed both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
“While the problem of cross-border social security fraud is not new (and the DHSS(NI)) and the Department of Social Welfare in Dublin have co-operated closely over the years in the effort to prevent it), I suggest that in the light of this new information about PIRA involvement our respective senior officials in the law and order and social security fields should meet very soon to review the current position and propose ways in which this source of funding for terrorism can be cut off.”
It was further reported that the putative 10 per cent levy was permitting “local PIRA units to be self-financing to some extent and is particularly prevalent in border areas, where benefit can be claimed both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
But in further communications on the same subject a few months later Brian Blackwell, from the NIO’s Law and Order Division, said he’d written to RUC Assistant Chief Constable Wilf Monahan who had disappointingly been unable to provide any evidence of the Provo tax.
Mr Monahan wrote to the NIO on September 10, 1987, stating: “It would appear that there is no firm evidence, other than intelligence to suggest that paramilitaries are benefitting from Social Security frauds.
“It is accepted, however, that such frauds are occurring and it would be totally wrong to presume that paramilitaries on both sides of the border are not taking the benefit to elicit money from it towards financing their respective campaigns in some way.”
Mr Blackwell was unimpressed and expressed this in an NIO circular on October 1, 1987.
He said he wrote to ACC Wilf Monahan, copying the letter to ACC Trevor Forbes and Gavin Hewitt) asking them “if they could provide and specific evidence or intelligence of the extent of paramilitary involvement in these frauds.”
He asked if they could provide a steer as to where to direct enquires.
Mr Blackwell wrote: “You will see that it is disappointing - full of generalities and totally lacking in specifics.
“I am afraid it will not be much help to the Minister at his meeting with his Irish counterpart.
“I suppose the areas, which the Minister may wish to explore are those pointed to in the last sentence of Mr Monahan’s third paragraph, ie. increased surveillance on known suspects, overcoming the difficulties about access to individual’s records and arranging for closer RUC/Garda Síochána liaison.”