Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:



The nature of terrorist fundraising activity in Northern Ireland is changing. In addition to traditional fundraising activities such as extortion and armed robbery, paramilitaries from both traditions are increasingly turning their attention to more complex and sophisticated forms of organised criminal activity such as fuel smuggling and counterfeiting. These probably net the terrorist groups millions of pounds of income each year. Some of the revenue goes to fund individual criminal lifestyles. The remainder buys propaganda and weapons which help terrorists maintain their dominance - often violent - of local communities.

Organised crime, whether or not it is directly linked to terrorism, has the potential to corrupt and undermine the economy by distorting markets and making normal business practice impossible. Nor is there any room for complacency that the problem is confined to Northern Ireland: these criminals are now turning their attention to the larger and potentially more profitable markets of Great Britain.

The Government has responded to this significant threat in two ways: by the formation of the pioneering Organised Crime Task Force for Northern Ireland, and through the proposal for an Assets Recovery Agency. We welcome the impetus which the Task Force has provided to joint working between the law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland, and look forward to the expansion of this strategic, co-operative approach.

The proposed Assets Recovery Agency similarly has the potential to prove considerably disruptive of criminal activity, both in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. However, comparisons of the proposal for the Agency with the well-established and respected Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland suggest that the current plans for the Agency will leave it substantially under-resourced for the scale of the problem it is designed to tackle. We believe that the first few years of the Agency's operation could make or break its reputation. If the Government wishes the Agency to be genuinely feared by serious criminals, and supported by the public, it must provide it with the resources it will need from its inception.

We also welcome the Government's willingness to accept the recommendation of our earlier interim report, that individuals working for the new Agency be provided with the protection of anonymity where they or their families might otherwise find their safety threatened. We believe that this will make a significant contribution to the effectiveness of the Agency and the confidence of its staff in tackling this difficult problem.

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