Irish border hijacks spark alarm among lorry drivers: Police investigate IRA links to cargo thefts by gangs masquerading as officers

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(First Edition)

POLICE on both sides of the Irish border are investigating possible IRA involvement in a spate of hijackings of lorries carrying cargo between Dublin and Northern Ireland.

The robberies have prompted hauliers to ask for only clearly identified Irish garda cars to be used in routine road checks, after several robberies in which raiders masqueraded as gardai.

Sheila McCabe, president of the Irish Road Hauliers' Association, said her members were now alarmed by the incidents in which lorries were hijacked by men in unmarked cars claiming to be plain-clothes gardai conducting routine vehicle checks.

'They (the hijackings) are taking place at the rate of one a month. There have been three cases we know of where the robbers posed as gardai in plain clothes, waving down trucks,' she said. 'In one case, the car had a blue light and the man wore a garda uniform.'

Mrs McCabe wants gardai to stop using unmarked cars in routine vehicle checks to help lorry drivers avoid such attacks. So far none of the drivers has been badly treated, but she fears that it could be 'only a matter of time before someone is badly hurt' if a paramilitary group is carrying out the robberies for 'fund-raising' purposes.

Consignments robbed this year have included cigarettes, furniture, drink, chickens, turkeys and electrical goods, with an estimated black market value of IRpounds 1m. Most of the hijackings have taken place between Dublin and the border in three counties - Dublin, Meath and Dundalk. Gardai believe the same gang may have carried out all the raids.

Last month a consignment of cigarettes disappeared soon after leaving the P J Carrolls tobacco plant in Dundalk en route for Dublin. The vehicle was found abandoned and empty two days later close to the border in Co Cavan.

A spokesman for the Royal Ulster Constabulary said the hijacking last week of a lorry carrying a consignment of microwave ovens, valued at pounds 45,000, after leaving a Belfast transport depot was the first such incident in the province this year.

The driver was held in his bunk bed for more than two hours, then put into a car before being released in Drogheda, midway between Dublin and the border. He was taken to a pub, given a drink and warned not to move because the gang would be watching the premises. Gardai only learnt of the driver's whereabouts six hours after his abduction. The cargo has been recovered.

IRA members have used stolen garda uniforms in a raid on a gun dealer in Tipperary. Republicans were believed responsible for the theft of uniforms from a garda depot in Tralee, Co Kerry, in August 1990.

The same year saw the IRA credited with two successful train robberies. In March 1990, a mail train was robbed at Gormanstown, Co Meath. Five days later a fork-lift truck was used to unload a large cargo of cigarettes during a similar raid on a goods train at Kilkenny station.

Last year the IRA was thought to be involved in a IRpounds 2.25m 'fund-raising' raid on a cash distribution centre in Waterford. The robbery was completed in six minutes by a gang wearing combat jackets and armed with pistols and a sub-machine gun.