Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 489)

WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002

JANE KENNEDY, MR DAVID WATKINS AND MR BRIAN WHITE

  480. My interpretation might be wrong but from your opening statement you seemed reluctant that there should be an add-on in sentencing when it was paramilitary links that were connected with criminal activity. Am I wrong there? You certainly said that it was difficult to divide the two areas up from each other, but obviously an add-on (because this type of counterfeiting, extortion, etcetera, was related to paramilitary activity) might to some of us seem to be quite a relevant matter.
  (Jane Kennedy) If I could put it this way: because it is extremely difficult in many cases to prove membership or involvement with paramilitary organisations, because of the nature very often of the evidence that you are relying upon about individual's activities, one of the reasons why the Task Force has become so important in tackling the way in which paramilitaries raise funds and the activities that they are engaged in is that you can deal with them in the basic nature of the criminal work they are involved in. You can disrupt that work, arrest them, charge them, convict them for that activity and while, yes, it does not immediately read across that a paramilitary has been caught in the act of smuggling and been prosecuted, as far as the courts are concerned this individual has been caught as a smuggler and is dealt with as a smuggler. Where an individual is involved in an act of terrorism or is engaged in terrorism and it can be proven, then it will be dealt with under the legislation that already exists.

  481. It is whether there should be something extra involved for something that is a criminal action because of the links that it then has with terrrorist activities. I have got a bit of a feeling that you might not be willing to go down that road because there are some ways in which it might be seen as interfering with the peace process, that the more that gets brought forward in terms of the measures having paramilitary connections with them, the more political difficulties that might raise about the involvement of political parties who are close to terrrorist organisations.
  (Jane Kennedy) I would very quickly rebut that. There is no view within Government of that at all. As I say again, Chairman, it is difficult to respond to this question when I have not got any evidence that there is a problem here. If you have a specific suggestion or proposal that you are offering I would take it away and consider it. As it stands at this moment in time, as I said at the beginning of my answer to you, I would just say I am not aware that there is a problem and the scheduled offences statistics show that they get longer sentences so, in fact, the judges do bear in mind any aggravation.

  482. It is whether there specifically should be an aggravated factor that is added to it when it is counterfeiting, extortion, etcetera, activities being engaged in, almost distinct from a second consideration under other legislation.
  (Jane Kennedy) There are a number of ways of answering that. The first thing I would say to you is in the many conversations I have with the Police about how can we legislate to make their job easier, this has never once been raised by police officers that I have discussed it with. From that starting point they have not raised it as an issue. I was aware that the Committee considered this and it is one of the concerns of members of the Committee but before I considered going down the route of introducing offences aggravated by terrrorist activity, I would want to be convinced that there was a problem that needed to be dealt with because you would be into a very difficult area. The kind of evidence that you would need to be drawing upon is very difficult to use in a court. You would be talking about intelligence sources and intelligence material that is impossible in many circumstances to offer as evidence. It is not the simple solution that you are proposing.

Mr Tynan

  483. It would appear that there is considerable frustration at the present time over the fact there is no extradition agreement for fiscal crime with the Republic Ireland. What value would you see in the proposed European Arrest warrant for law enforcement in Northern Ireland?
  (Jane Kennedy) The Republic of Ireland have recently amended their domestic legislation to take into account the European-wide terrorist legislation and as a result the same piece of legislation came into effect here on 20 March on the same day as the Conventions came into force in both the UK and Ireland, so the new provisions are now in place. I accept that had not previously been done. That was simply a matter of both countries having their legislation at the right point. It now being in place and it now being in effect in both countries, I expect that it will be of benefit.

  484. So an extradition agreement exists at the present time?
  (Jane Kennedy) Yes.

  485. That is without the European Arrest Warrant being implemented?
  (Jane Kennedy) The legislation now being in existence, we can now extradite individuals from the Republic of Ireland and vice versa for fiscal crimes.

  486. What resources are dedicated by the Northern Ireland Office and the Organised Crime Task Force to tracking paramilitary fund raising and associated organised crime in other jurisdictions?
  (Jane Kennedy) The resources that we commit to the Organised Crime Task Force through the Northern Ireland Office are largely the commitment of official support for the Task Force and my own commitment of time and effort. We have a small publicity budget but apart from that financial resources are limited. That is because the role of the Task Force is a strategic one, not an operational one. Clearly the operational agencies have the resources that they need to carry out their functions and we as a Task Force invest a significant amount of official support at all levels. The Task Force has a significant amount of senior officials from the Department who are full members of the Task Force and they also assist and run the expert groups and subgroups of the Task Force.

  487. Thank you very much.
  (Jane Kennedy) One of the memoranda we sent you would have given you the detail of who was involved and at what level.

Mark Tami

  488. What is being done to encourage and nurture public support in Northern Ireland for the Organised Crime Task Force and the Assets Recovery Agency, bearing in mind that a lot of these crimes are seen to be victimless in that everybody gains with cheaper fuel and cheaper cigarettes? How are you countering that sort of perception?
  (Jane Kennedy) The Northern Ireland Office has for some time conducted omnibus surveys as far as public opinion in Northern Ireland. This January we introduced a series of questions into that survey which will test public opinion. For example public awareness of the Organised Crime Task Force is one of the questions asked and awareness of the role of the Task Force and awareness of organised crime as a problem. The initial findings, which we will not be publishing until June because that is the regular publishing of information, are very encouraging in that of those that answered, a significant number were aware of the Task Force, and of those that were aware there was almost total support for the Task Force. What is also interesting is the way in which the public is beginning to identify issues like drugs, protection, racketeering, counterfeit goods as being mainly associated with organised gangs. Obviously you need to build from year to year those kind of research figures but that is encouraging. One of the other findings (again the full details will be published later) I will share with you is that 50 per cent of those who said they were aware of the Task Force said that they would be prepared to report organised criminal activity where they saw it which I think in the context within which we are working and the concerns we would have about public acceptance or awareness of organised crime is very encouraging.

Chairman

  489. Minister, Mr Watkins, and Mr White, thank you very much, as always, for coming. It is a pleasure to see you. I hope you do not find it an ordeal because we are on the same side.
  (Jane Kennedy) Thank you. I look forward to receiving your transcript.

  Chairman: We will send you the transcript of the Home Office evidence.





 
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