The high-profile offensive, codenamed 'Operation Madronna', involved more than 2,000 police officers and was the largest co-ordinated operation against IRA back-room logistics and supply networks in recent years.
Eight people were being questioned last night - four in London and four in Dublin. Police said the raids netted a substantial quantity of drugs, stolen property, cash and stolen financial instruments.
The principal targets of the raids are believed to have been a top tier of alleged 'bankers' co-ordinating the funding for IRA units in Northern Ireland and Britain.
The operation followed more than a year's intelligence gathering led by the RUC's anti-racketeering unit in conjunction with its counterparts in Dublin and the Special and Anti-Terrorist Branches of Scotland Yard, as well as MI5 in Britain. A senior British police source said the operation was the result of a strategic decision to hit the entire IRA funding network in one go rather than mount individual investigations.
A joint statement said more than 40 addresses were raided: 14 in London and Surrey, 11 in the Irish Republic, eight in Lancashire and Merseyside and eight in Northern Ireland.
In the Irish Republic, Garda officers raided four addresses in Dundalk, which is close to the border and has been a key centre for IRA fund- raising activity in the past, and five in Dublin. Van-loads of documents seized in raids in the affluent Ballsbridge area of south Dublin were said to include bank and building society account records and business transactions by ostensibly legitimate businesses. About IR pounds 20,000 was seized and vehicles impounded.
The IRA spends an estimated pounds 5m or more each year buying supplies, providing welfare for jailed members and on the various costs of keeping its campaign of violence going. Its main sources of funding have ranged from bank and post-office robberies to holding up mail trains in the Irish Republic and reportedly creaming off a share of cross-border smuggling activities.
The reported involvement of a Dublin-based man operating as a legitimate businessman has been taken as an indication of a wider range of sources of funds, including drugs trafficking. The IRA has consistently denied being involved in illegal drugs trading.
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, welcomed the raids and said forthcoming legislation would give police new powers to examine bank accounts.
Political sources stressed last night that the raids should not be seen as marking the end of a period in which both the British and Irish governments have been awaiting a definitive IRA response to last December's Downing Street declaration.
IRA's funds network, page 2Reuse content