Concerns are mounting within the Gardaí and the PSNI at the spate of ATM robberies on both sides of the border – amid fears that some of the money may be diverted to dissident republicans.
Garda bosses, led by commissioner Drew Harris, have previously highlighted the threat posed by dissidents and warned that Brexit, particularly a hard border, would be a “rallying call” for such groups.
Gardaí are investigating if the spate of robberies is linked to some efforts by dissidents, such as the New IRA, to increase their resources in a bid to assist terrorist activities.
There have been 11 ATM robberies on both sides of the border in less than 12 months – seven of them in the north and four in the south, including the latest raid, which occurred in the early hours of this morning in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan.
Commenting afterwards, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said it was “hard to know” if dissidents were behind, or benefiting from, the raids.
But he said the PSNI, with the assistance of the Gardaí, had to “get on top” of the robberies, which he said were happening on a “regular basis”.
Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke he said: “It seems to be organised. It's obviously being run by gangs are that are organised.
“This is something the PSNI need to get on top of. It's a real concern within communities on the border. Obviously, An Garda Síochána will be working very closely with the PSNI as well.”
At 3am, a digger was used to rip out an ATM from the wall of AIB on Main Street in Castleblaney.
The gang had blocked off York Street, the road connecting the local garda station to Main Street, using a tractor and trailer.
When gardaí arrived the digger was still running and officers received accounts that a 4x4 jeep and a trailer, with the cash machine on it, was seen driving in the direction of Co Armagh.
Garda sources said was the robbery was “quite daring” given the close proximity of the garda station.
“The road between the garda station and the ATM was blocked off with a tractor and trailer, so it was well organised,” a garda source said.
Just last Monday, a digger was used to remove an ATM from the wall of a shop in Ahoghill, Co Antrim.
After that, a senior PSNI officer raised the possibility that dissidents might be benefiting from the series of raids on both sides of the border.
Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson said they were looking at “several gangs” being involved in the crimes.
He said: “We have no evidence that paramilitaries are involved, but all crime in Northern Ireland usually goes back to paramilitaries, whether committed by them or whether they tax the perpetrators of the crime and take some the criminal assets from them.”
Gardaí here have noted the specific reference to dissidents in the public comments of the senior PSNI officer. And garda sources are concerned at the possibility that the high number of raids may be feeding into some organised fundraising effort by dissidents.