Belfast Agreement gave a green light for crime

In the absence of any actionable evidence, the world’s media seems to have made up its mind on who precisely was responsible for the Northern Bank raid. The Economist is in no doubt that the Belfast Agreement left the IRA the lattitude it would require to conduct organised crime on the scale its accused of.

It is a curious feature of the Good Friday Agreement, the deal which got Northern Ireland’s peace process under way, that while it proscribes a wide range of paramilitary activities, it does not mention organised crime—one of the IRA’s main occupations. Perhaps this was an oversight on the part of the British and Irish governments. Perhaps they thought it so obvious that extortion, smuggling, armed robbery and fraud were unacceptable that it did not need to spell the point out to Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. Or perhaps they felt that organised crime was less important than the terrorism that the Good Friday Agreement was primarily aimed at stopping; and that to make too much of a fuss about the odd heist would undermine the peace process.

Whatever the reasons, the omission was a mistake. Organised crime is flourishing in Northern Ireland, and ignoring the IRA’s involvement is likely to have hindered, rather than helped, the peace process: the principal sticking point has been the decommissioning of IRA weapons, and running a profitable sideline in bank robbery and extortion gives the IRA an extra reason to hold on to its guns. Now the Irish government is at last hitting the IRA’s business empire in the south.