Gardaí and the PSNI have established the first-ever joint investigation team to tackle the gang behind the escalating campaign of intimidation and violence against the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the initiative was about combining evidence to bring prosecutions in whichever of the two jurisdictions was the “best place” to do so.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the police services wanted to be “seen to act in a strong and robust way” and reassure local communities that the “rule of law will prevail”.
Speaking at a joint press briefing at Garda HQ, the commissioner said the announcement happened to coincide with the co-ordinated series of search operations on both sides of the border and at a home in Derbyshire, England.
They confirmed that a man in that home died during the search, thought to have been the result of a heart attack.
Cyril McGuinness, a former senior figure in the Provisional IRA and major crime boss, is believed by officers to be the chief orchestrator of the abduction and torture of QIH director Kevin Lunney last September.
McGuinness, aged 54, from Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, is believed to have been using the property in Buxton, Derbyshire, as a “safe house”.
Both the commissioner and the PSNI chief did not comment on the man, apart from Mr Hamilton saying the death was “very regrettable”.
He declined to say whether the five searches conducted by the PSNI in the Derrylin area were linked to him.
In addition to the five searches in the North, 12 searches were conducted in the Republic: Five in Co Cavan, three in Co Longford, and four in Dublin.
Mr Harris said the searches were to gather evidence in order to advance the investigations.
Asked whether the investigation was also targeting the “paymaster” behind the abduction, Mr Harris said all facets of the crime were being investigated, including “motivation”.
Mr Hamilton said it was a “very wide-ranging inquiry” and that the searches marked one phase of the investigation and that there would be “more to come”.
Mr Harris said legislation was passed earlier this year which allowed Gardaí to take part in JITs.
He said the joint investigation team, which would be overseen by EU judicial co-operation body Eurojust, was centred on attacks on QIH.
Eurojust documents state that joint investigation teams were set up “for a limited duration and for a specific purpose” and based on an agreement between prosecutors and judges.
It said they were “an efficient and effective co-operation tool that facilitates the co-ordination of investigations and prosecutions conducted in parallel in several States or in cases with a cross-border dimension”.
Mr Harris said the team can look back on historic crimes targeting QIH, as far back as 2015 in the Republic, while Mr Hamilton said they can go back as far as 2012.
The PSNI chief said they were “looking at the best place to carry out a prosecution” and that it could be in the North or in the South, rather than in both places.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the development saying it was the first-ever joint investigation team involving the gardaí.
“This is a significant step forward and I commend the Garda Commissioner and his counterparts in PSNI management for taking this initiative which has been in preparation for some time,” he said.
He said he was confident they would use the team “to bring to justice those involved in these heinous attacks”.
In a statement, QIH welcomed the joint investigative efforts evident in the co-ordinated searches.
“The searches mark an important milestone in bringing those involved in attacks on QIH staff to justice,” said the statement.