The ‘Belfast Job’: luck of the Irish, paper waste

By Kelly McKee
February 17, 2005

It is a stormy night the week before Christmas. A husband and wife sit in a house decorated with lights and other symbols of the holidays. A knock on the door reveals two men dressed as police officers, there to inform the husband that his sister has been killed in a horrific car accident. They are invited inside by the grief stricken man. Suddenly a gun is put to the man’s head and he and his wife are tied up. The man is put in a van and driven to a house across town while the wife is blindfolded, held hostage overnight and then taken deep in to the woods early the next morning, from where she has to find her way home, scared, alone and suffering from hypothermia.

Meanwhile across town, three masked men force their way inside a house. Here a family is gathered for a Sunday night indoors, a mother, father, two sons and a girlfriend of one of the sons. One of the sons is bundled into the waiting van and taken away while the rest of the family are held hostage for over 24 hours.

Twenty hours later a dramatic bank robbery was staged, the robbers escaping with around $50 million, rivaling all bank heists of the past. This is not the opening scene for ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ but is a true story from a city in Northern Ireland, where I call home, that is Belfast. And it happened over my Christmas break.

On Monday, Dec. 20, this ingenious bank robbery, which is said to have been carried out by over 20 robbers, shook the city of Belfast. While we rushed around the city centre frantically clawing for last minute presents, these criminal coolly loaded millions of dollars into an unmarked van parked next to the bustling Northern Bank in the hub of the city. The two men, both bank officials were threatened with the death of their families if they did not comply with the demands of the masked men. The officials arrived at work at noon and worked normally throughout the afternoon in the cash centre, which is in the basement of the building. The two were told to send the rest of the staff away early for Christmas shopping. When the building emptied the officials watched as the vault was emptied load by load into the waiting vehicle. The robbers made there getaway successfully while the officials were left tied up inside the building.

This story at first hearing seems a glamorous heist, rivaling those in blockbusters such as ‘The Italian Job,’ but for the troubled Northern Ireland it just spells another setback in our struggle for peace. Shortly after the robbery Hugh Orde, chief constable of Northern Ireland Police Service, made this sensational claim, “In my opinion the Provisional IRA is responsible. My assessment may have wider political implications, but that’s a matter for the politicians, not the police.” In 1970 the Provisional IRA began mounting attacks in hope of abolishing Northern Ireland, a British territory created in 1921.The underground group killed about 1,800 people before calling an open-ended truce in 1997. The ceasefire enabled Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, to join wider negotiations and has certainly reduced the bombings, shootings and other paramilitary attacks, but has not yet put an end to underground activities such as drug smuggling and now it seems bank robberies.

Sinn Fein are feverently denying the IRAs involvement in the heist, but suspicions have been raised amongst the British and Irish governments. What will happen is not yet known but cetainly the trust that had slowly been building has now crumbled.

As for the bank robbers, they are probably in Brazil or Mexico, sipping on their pina coladas. The funny thing is though that the majority of the banknote stolen were Northern Bank notes, which have now been taken out of circulation and soon will become useless.

So heres to the luck of the Irish and what has turned out to be the biggest theft of…waste paper in history.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Kelly McKee

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