New York — Funds raised in the United States ostensibly for charitable relief work in Northern Ireland have been diverted for the purchase of guns and bombmaking equipment for the outlawed Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), according to US federal court documents. The funds, raised through pub collections and testimonial dinners by the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid) of New York City, are channeled through An Cumman Cabhrach, a relief organization in Dublin.
But on several occasions in 1982 and 1983 some of the Noraid funds were siphoned off to finance IRA shopping expeditions in the US for guns and other military hardware, according to the testimony of Michael Hanratty, a former electronics purchaser for the IRA who turned federal informant in 1982.
``Money supplied by Noraid was sent over to Ireland,'' Mr. Hanratty testified in the 1983 Brooklyn gunrunning trial of Gabriel Megahey and Andrew Duggan. ``At that point, when equipment was to be purchased, a courier then took some of the money that was needed and carried it back to this country.
``It was direct triangulation. Money collected here, sent there, and then transported back.''
Although Hanratty's statement about Noraid did not play a significant role in the prosecution of Mr. Megahey and Mr. Duggan, it remains today the strongest piece of evidence among available public records and documents supporting Irish, British, and US government claims that Noraid funds are illicitly diverted from their announced purpose.
It is called ``the Noraid connection.''
For years it has baffled security officials in Belfast, Dublin, London, and Washington who have been trying to establish a concrete link between the New York-based national fund-raising effort and the bankrolling of a steady flow of arms and explosives from the US to the Provisional wing of the IRA in Northern Ireland.
Despite 15 years of active fund raising in America, Noraid remains as controversial now as when it began its efforts to assist the cause of the Republican/nationalist movement in Ulster in 1970. It is one of the most outspoken supporters in this country of the Provisional IRA's violent campaign of snipings, bombings, and armed attacks designed to end British rule in Northern Ireland. Since 1969, IRA attacks in Ulster have resulted in the deaths of 605 civilians and 722 members of the security forces, according to Northern Ireland government statistics.
Noraid has most recently come into the public spotlight following reports that the US was the source of seven tons of IRA arms confiscated Sept. 29 off Ireland's southwest coast aboard the Irish fishing trawler Marita Ann. Irish officials used the occasion to condemn Noraid, though there was no established Noraid link at the time.
A Noraid spokesman in New York said after the incident: ``Irish Northern Aid categorically rejects the false suggestion that our committee funds were involved with the shipment of weapons seized in Kerry or with any shipments of weapons. . . .''
Noraid was founded and directed by Michael Flannery, who in the 1920s was an IRA member in the North Tipperary Brigade, and has provided the Republican movement in Northern Ireland with its largest regular source of American funds ($2 million to $3 million since 1970) and unstinting moral support from a vocal minority of Irish-Americans who openly support the IRA. Irish, British, and American officials say the US has also been the IRA's largest source of guns. `If I was young . . . I would be back on the firing line'
Mr. Flannery was acquitted of gunrunning charges in 1982 and, amid a storm of controversy, was subsequently elected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians as grand marshall of New York City's 1983 St. Patrick's Day Parade. During a recent interview in Noraid's cramped, second-floor office in the Inwood section of Manhattan, Flannery made no bones about his support of the IRA and its tactics, though he vehemently denied that Noraid is involved in gunrunning.
Flannery asks: ``Do you think if I had freedom to send weapons over to the IRA that I wouldn't send over the whole US armory? Of course I would.''
And he adds, ``I can tell you truthfully, if I was a young man, I wouldn't be here. I would be back on the firing line again.''
Flannery says that rumors about the so-called Noraid connection are a propaganda ploy by the British government aimed at discrediting and undermining his fund-raising efforts in the US. He says Noraid funds are distributed exclusively as charitable relief to the dependents of political prisoners in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
A Monitor investigation of the organization and its sister organizations in Dublin and Belfast indicates that Noraid contributions play a central role in the maintenance of established prisoner-relief programs through the charitable work of groups such as Belfast's Green Cross.
But questions remain about whether all the money collected in the United States for prisoner relief actually goes to charitable relief efforts in Northern Ireland.
In May 1981, US District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. in New York ruled in a Justice Department suit against Noraid that the organization was acting in America as an arm of the Provisional IRA. Judge Haight wrote in his decision: ``The uncontroverted evidence is that [Noraid] is an agent of the IRA, providing money and services for other than relief purposes.'' Flannery objected. Noraid lawyers appealed the decision but lost. Half of funds diverted for weapons, Irish police suspect
``At least half of what is raised in America stays in the US for the purchase of weapons,'' says a spokesmen in Belfast for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the police force in Northern Ireland.
An Irish security official in Dublin says: ``It is difficult to know if all their funds are channeled in this direction [relief efforts]. We think that surplus funds may be channeled to the purchase of bombs and bullets.''
``Our feeling,'' says a British security official in Northern Ireland, ``is that most of the money that is raised in America is never declared -- it is simply used for the purchase of weapons.''
``There is no way we can check on their money-laundering operation, because you never know how much they collect,'' says Donald J. McGorty, head of the division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in New York that handles international terrorism.
He adds: ``There's no way we can tell if they collected $100,000 or $5 million. Now, whether all that money is sent to Ireland, who's to say? But in any scenario you can think of about the money, there is a probability against all other scenarios that it has been used.''
Security officials aren't alone in their questions about whether some of the Noraid funds are used to purchase guns and explosives.
The Rev. Dennis Faul, a Roman Catholic priest in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, who is one of three trustees of the Green Cross -- a main recipient of Noraid funds -- says he is not sure whether all Noraid's funds are being allocated for relief purposes.
``I have my own suspicions,'' he says. ``All I'm saying is that Noraid sends some money. It may not be all the money.'' Noraid founder's link to IRA
Although Noraid officials say the organization has never been formally linked to gunrunning activities, the group's director, Flannery, has.
The link became public during the 1982 gunrunning trial in Brooklyn. Flannery and four other Irish-Americans were charged with conspiring to smuggle a 20-millimeter cannon, a flame thrower, 47 machine guns, and 11 automatic rifles to the IRA. (One of the other defendants, Patrick Mullin, had served as treasurer of the Flatbushbranch of Noraid, in New York City.)
Flannery's part in the arms deal was that he provided the funds to purchase weapons: He was the banker.
In testimony in federal court, Flannery said he gave $17,000 to a 67-year-old former Brink's armed guard, George Harrison, who Flannery knew was buying arms for the IRA. According to court records, Mr. Harrison's own lawyer said Harrison had been running guns to the IRA from New York for 25 years.
Flannery stressed that the money he gave Harrison was not Noraid money. Rather, he said, it was money from a different, secret IRA fund he kept in his home. He said the IRA fund ($20,000 in June 1981) was made up of contributions from individuals who had asked that their money go to the IRA rather than to Noraid.
Flannery testified that he had been receiving such IRA contributions ever since he emigrated from Ireland to New York in 1927. He also said he had supplied money from his IRA fund for gun deals several times.
The Noraid director testified that when he received money for the IRA, ``I would make sure it got to the Irish Republican Army. I don't have any direct connection with the IRA, but I do know ways and means of getting it to them.''
This statement raises questions that were not answered during the trial: Why would a man who professes no connection to the IRA feel he had the discretion to allocate $17,000 of the IRA's money? Would the IRA entrust the financing of weapons purchases to an outsider?
Security sources in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland say they suspect Flannery is a member of the IRA. They say their suspicions are based in part on surveillance of whom Flannery contacts and meets in Ireland. But they add that there are no known lists of the IRA membership, so it is difficult to establish who is a member. Startling admissions in open court
An RUC spokesman says the IRA's control over Noraid appears to be ``persuasive rather than direct.'' But he adds: ``The direction and control is there.''
Again, Flannery denies any connection to the IRA. What he doesn't deny, however, is that he approves of the smuggling of guns to the IRA and that he was prepared to finance gunrunning deals.
Such admissions made in open court were at first startling to prosecutors and law-enforcement officials attending the 1982 trial. Flannery and the other defendants, in effect, admitted they were running guns to the IRA.
But their defense was that they had been under the impression that the arms shipments were being sanctioned by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to enable US intelligence both to monitor the flow of weapons to the Provisional IRA and to prevent the Soviets from becoming an influential IRA arms supplier.
Defense attorneys alleged that one of the middlemen in the arms deal, George DeMeo, was a CIA operative. Mr. DeMeo denied any CIA link. According to the CIA witness at the trial, the CIA had no record of any connection with DeMeo. An FBI source, in an interview with this correspondent, said that DeMeo had had a contact with the CIA some 20 years earlier, but that there were no links to US intelligence agencies at the time of the IRA arms deals.
The judge permitted this defense to be used in court. The CIA repeatedly denied any involvement in the case. But government prosecutors -- hampered by the public's lingering memories of the Watergate scandal and the CIA's tarnished image -- were unable to convince the jury, ``beyond a reasonable doubt,'' that it wasn't a CIA operation. The five -- including Flannery -- were acquitted. British aghast at Flannery verdict
Today, Flannery says, he no longer accepts funds for the IRA. ``There are still people around'' who want to give money to the IRA, he says. ``I told all of these people not to bother me with any more funds for the IRA; that it was too dangerous, for one thing. I'd be constantly watched, etc.''
British and Irish security officials were aghast at the outcome of the Flannery trial. One British official in Northern Ireland says: ``It is a deficiency of the American justice system that the defendants could stand up in court, admit the crime, and then get away with it.''
For Flannery the trial was an opportunity to battle British propaganda with his own brand of propaganda.
Contributions to Noraid rose as Irish-Americans rallied around the five accused gunrunners, considered patriots in certain Irish-American circles. And within a few months, Flannery was marching proudly at the head of the 1983 St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City.