A hotel yards from Government buildings was tonight at the centre of a major Garda investigation into IRA money laundering.
The Earl of Kildare Hotel, which is less than 100 metres from the Dáil, was searched by detectives from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) last week.
A senior Garda source confirmed that the hotel was part of the CAB investigation into the IRA’s proceeds of crime.
He said that searches had also been carried out on a pub in North Dublin and at least 10 solicitors’ and accountants’ offices in Meath, Louth, Dublin and Wicklow.
“We will be spending at least six months analysing what we have seized, which is in excess of 150 boxes,” he said.
The Earl of Kildare is a four-storey Georgian building situated on the corner of Kildare Street and Nassau Street in Dublin’s city centre and is a popular location for political press conferences and meetings.
The Irish and EU flags hang on flagpoles above its entrance and a sign advertises for ‘Traditional Irish bar food’.
But the hotel bar inside was deserted this afternoon and the receptionist said the manager was not available.
When asked about the Garda raid, she said: “We don’t know anything about that.”
The Earl of Kildare Hotel was formerly known as Power’s Hotel and changed ownership several times in the 1980s and 1990s.
Last year, two catering firms working at the hotel were shut down by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for breaching hygiene regulations.
The CAB investigation was set up following the cross-Border police investigation of the €36m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December 2004.
It led to a series of arrests in Cork and Dublin and the recovery of cash worth €5m, which the Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy said was linked to the Northern Bank Robbery.
Gardaí believe that the IRA may have earned cash through the fraudulent operation of slot machines in London and other major cities in schemes dating back over 15 years.
They are now trawling through thousands of documents to see if they can show that this money was used to buy properties and business.
“If we can show that the original premises was the proceeds of crime, we may then be able to show that a huge amount of other things are indirectly the proceeds of crime,” said the senior garda source.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell said that both CAB and their counterparts in Northern Ireland, the Assets Recovery Agency, regarded all proceeds of crime as their legitimate quarry.
“Of course I’m concerned and of course the Irish Government and the British government are concerned about a very substantial treasure chest or war chest of assets being in the hands of what are illegal movements,” he said.
“The good news from today’s story is that the battle to get those assets into safe hands and to deprive paramilitary and subversive people of their use, for whatever purposes, is ongoing and is succeeding.”
Fine Gael, the largest Irish opposition party, said the raids raised even more questions about the leadership of the Provisional IRA.
“It now is very clear that the IRA and Sinn Féin have been engaged in criminality for many years. It’s also very clear that that situation continues, and I think there’s a huge onus on the Provisional leadership to openly and transparently clear up all these issues and totally disengage from criminality,” said justice spokesman Jim O’Keefe TD.