IN a hard-hitting statement, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan has repeated his call for tougher action on fuel-smuggling.
Illegal diesel, he said, was causing huge environmental problems, costing car-owners thousands because of damaged engines and was also losing millions in taxes to the exchequer, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
How is it, he asked, that the British could locate the leader of Al-Qaeda in a cave in Afghanistan, yet could not find sheds in South Armagh with diesel tankers in them.
“Would somebody please get real,” he said.
And he called for an end to what he described as a policy of appeasement in South Armagh in particular, where there is “no normal policing”.
“That difficulty is being used as an opportunity to generate dirty money,” he said. “I think both governments must stop the appeasement.”
But, the Newcastle West-based TD said Sinn Fein’s reaction to comments he made recently was “bizarre”.
Speaking on a report produced by the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly on cigarette and fuel smuggling, Deputy O’Donovan claimed money from these illegal activities were finding its way into the political process.
“I know where the money that funds the Fine Gael party comes from, everybody knows where it comes from. Everybody knows where the funds for Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party comes from, but there are strong question marks over other political parties,” he added.
But Sinn Fein public representatives, including Abbeyfeale councillor Seamus Browne, swiftly reacted to this.
“Sinn Féin has been vociferous in its condemnation of illegal fuel laundering and I reject strongly the allegation made by Deputy Patrick O’Donovan, which was nothing more than a political slur,” Cllr Browne told the Limerick Leader.
Deputy O’Donovan, the councillor added, “has suggested that Sinn Féin is involved with illegal activities while the Garda Commissioner denies this” and this was a blatant attempt to politicise the issue and deflect from genuine efforts to tackle the problem.
“Even the Garda Commissioner, in a letter written on her behalf to Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein), says that the gardaí have no information to support assertions that the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting’.
But Deputy O’Donovan insisted: “I never named any political party. But I find it remarkable that a political party, that has claimed for the last 30 years not to speak for a paramilitary organisation, is now clamouring to stand up for them. I find it a bit strange, to put it mildly.
“Why did they get so tetchy about this?” Deputy O’Donovan asked.
Asked why a new system had not been found to distinguish agricultural from commercial diesel, Deputy O’Donovan said work was being done to put in a fuel marker which would be acceptable in both jurisdictions.
But he remained critical of the seeming lack of success in finding and stamping out illegal fuel operators. Given that one member of the House of Lords and two senators had been able to travel and see the fuel laundering operating openly and with impunity, he felt that enough was not being done.
“I find it a bizarre form of appeasement and enough is enough.”