Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


(a)Paramilitary activity remains a feature of life within both traditions in Northern Ireland. Individuals are still being murdered, threatened or forced into exile from their families and communities. Beatings occur almost daily. Whether paramilitary activity is directed outwards towards society at large, or inwards towards the communities in which the paramilitaries live, these are still acts of terror. They must be stopped (paragraph 6).
(b)Much of what we have learned has been very positive. We have been encouraged by the evidence we have received that the Government is tackling these issues, and developing powerful and effective strategies to counter them (paragraph 8).
(c)The Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force Threat Assessment 2001 highlighted:

  • money laundering;
  • tobacco and fuel smuggling;
  • business and social security fraud; and
  • intellectual property theft (counterfeiting)

    as the highest priority problems for the task force to address in its first year. These are operationally complex and potentially very lucrative crimes (paragraph 18).
(d)Organised crime has been clearly demonstrated to be feeding and facilitating Northern Ireland terrorism. We applaud the fact that the Northern Ireland Office and law enforcement agencies have identified this threat and publicised it so explicitly. It is crucial that Government as a whole should recognise this link: organised crime must be rooted out of both Northern Ireland and Great Britain (paragraph 32).
(e)We welcome the action taken by the US Government to identify and take action against paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, as part of the war against terrorism. We recommend that our Government, in its continuing dialogue with the US Government, press for further such measures where funds and fund raising activity for any Northern Ireland paramilitary organisation can be identified within the United States (paragraph 46).
(f)We have been heartened by the many examples we have discovered both here and abroad of a willingness to engage actively in anti-terrorism strategies, particularly since September 11th 2001 (paragraph 86).
(g)We congratulate the Northern Ireland Office for the establishment of the Organised Crime Task Force as a model for co-operative working and joint development of strategy (paragraph 97).
(h)We hope that the overwhelmingly positive reports from participants in the Task Force will encourage both those in the Task Force itself and other agencies to consider how the benefits of this approach might be extended and shared more widely (paragraph 100).
(i)We were encouraged to learn of the co-operation between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Office in the publicity campaign about the dangers of counterfeit goods. We hope that this success will provide the foundation for many more joint initiatives in the fight against organised crime (paragraph 105).
(j)We were pleased to learn from the Minister that the importance of communicating the effects and dangers of organised crime to the public of Northern Ireland had been acknowledged, through the specific allocation of an Information Officer to the Task Force, and the provision within its limited resources of a budget for publicising its work (paragraph 107).
(k)We agree with Customs & Excise that publicity campaigns can be more effective than law enforcement in certain situations, and we urge the Government to give serious consideration to the role which such campaigns might play in the future strategy for dealing with specific facets of organised crime such as fuel laundering and tobacco smuggling. (Paragraph 107).
(l)We welcome the appointment of an adviser to the Secretary of State on organised crime. We hope that the communication of an effective public message will form a key part of his considerations and his contribution to strategy (paragraph 108).
(m)Given the importance of intelligence in countering terrorism and serious and organised crime, the inability of the NIO to access, or even locate, data on organised crime when needed is a cause for concern. There is clearly much more work to be done (paragraphs 113 & 114).
(n)We recommend that the NIO and the Task Force jointly consider the development of an information strategy (paragraph 115).
(o)We believe that the consistent publication of results would do much to convince the public of the value of the Task Force's work (paragraph 116).
(p)It is imperative that the police and other agencies engaged in tackling paramilitary or criminal activity have the resources and the support that they need. To ask them to make a choice between fighting domestic terrorism, or international terrorism, or organised and other crime which affects people directly in their daily lives is wrong (paragraph 125).
(q)We urge H M Treasury to recognise that investing in action, not only against organised crime, but against terrorism in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, would provide a strong financial return to the Exchequer and contribute to the establishment of a more honest and stable society. We call on Government to consider sympathetically the cases presented by the police services and other law enforcement agencies concerning the resources they need to tackle such crimes (paragraph 126).
(r)We find the picture of support for potential witnesses presented to us by the PSNI very disappointing. The level of personal sacrifice required of the individual, as it was described to us, is unreasonable; it makes the individual and potentially his or her family victims twice over. It is not surprising that so few are currently willing to make a stand (paragraph 133).
(s)We believe that the Government, in conjunction with the Executive where appropriate, must look again at the type and level of resources it makes available to support potential witnesses before, during and after cases which go to trial (paragraph 133).
(t)We welcome the new initiatives introduced by the Minister to improve understanding of the difficulties associated with the under-reporting of crime, and the bringing of cases to prosecution, and we also welcome the co-operation of trade organisations in this effort (paragraph 134).
(u)We recommend that the Government ensure that the judiciary in Northern Ireland are fully apprised of the strong links which have now been established between paramilitary organisations, serious and organised crime and the range of offences which provide these groups and individuals with their income (paragraph 143).
(v)We draw the suggestion by the PSNI of an aggravated offence in relation to extortion to the attention of the Northern Ireland Office (paragraph 144).
(w)We believe that the raising of the maximum tariff for extortion and other crimes linked to paramilitary fundraising, combined with the greater exercise of the courts' powers in such cases, would significantly increase the deterrent effect on paramilitaries and other serious criminals. We recommend that the Government consult the law enforcement agencies about the evidence that they and others have presented to us, and explore how the relevant statutes can be most effectively updated (paragraph 147).
(x)We welcome the introduction of extradition provisions for fiscal crimes between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (paragraph 149).
(y)We are pleased that the particular nature of the problems in Northern Ireland has been recognised in the decision to appoint an Assistant Director of the Agency with responsibility for operations in Northern Ireland (paragraph 169).
(z)There is little to be gained, and far more to lose, from proceeding with assets recovery on the limited basis indicated by the Government in Northern Ireland (paragraph 173).
(aa)There are high expectations on the part of politicians, law enforcement agencies, the general public and (presumably) the criminals themselves, that the Assets Recovery Agency will have a significant impact on the problem of organised and serious crime. On the basis of the evidence we have heard, those expectations are unlikely to be met so far as Northern Ireland is concerned (paragraph 176).
(bb)We call on the Government to reassess its allocation of resources to the Assets Recovery Agency in order that more resources can be allocated to Northern Ireland. We believe that it is currently under-resourced for the task required, and we further believe that the establishment of its reputation as a threat to criminality in its first few years will be crucial to its success. We therefore recommend that the Government make forward provision now in its spending plans for the substantial expansion of the Agency as its work develops (paragraph 177).
(cc)We further recommend that in reassessing the allocation of resources to the Assets Recovery Agency, the Government directly consult the agencies represented on the Organised Crime Task Force for Northern Ireland about the level of resources they believe will be necessary for the Agency to be effective in Northern Ireland (paragraph 178).
(dd)We recommend that the Government consider the possibility of enabling certain staff seconded to the Assets Recovery Agency to maintain access to their sponsoring organisation's databases (paragraph 183).
(ee)We welcome the establishment of the Recovered Assets Fund, which provides a means to return the proceeds of crime to the community whilst protecting the integrity of the confiscation process. We recommend that detailed consideration be given to the ways in which such projects might be publicly associated with assets recovery work in order to foster support for this new approach to tackling crime. In order to safeguard the reputation of the Fund and also its link with the assets recovery process, we also recommend that care be taken to ensure grants provided by the Fund are appropriately spent (paragraph 187).
(ff)A distinct minimum threshold for Assets Recovery Agency activity in Northern Ireland, which reflects local circumstances, must be set so that the Agency can be effective in that particularly difficult situation. We recommend that the Assistant Director of the Agency for Northern Ireland be given the power to determine this threshold, having consulted with the local law enforcement agencies and the Northern Ireland Office (paragraph 188).
(gg)We appreciate the very positive response from the Government towards our suggestion that staff of the Assets Recovery Agency should receive some form of statutory protection of their identities. We believe that staff of the Agency will be able to work far more effectively and safely because of it (paragraph 197).
(hh)The Government has taken some significant steps in developing its strategy against terrorism, and against organised crime. The importance of cutting paramilitaries off from their sources of income has been recognised, and joint working against organised crime looks set to contribute significantly to the reduction of that threat.

    What is important now is that these advances in strategy are followed through. Those who are actively engaged in the difficult and dangerous work of tackling paramilitaries and serious criminals have a right to expect not only a formal commitment to their work but properly resourced support by Government for the long term.

    It is also imperative that the Government continue to take direct action to compel those connected with paramilitary organisations - within both traditions - to cease all paramilitary activity. Reports that some weapons have been put beyond use are, of course, welcome. But when acts of decommissioning are swiftly followed by further evidence of continued gun-running, intimidation and brutal physical assaults, including on children, by paramilitary organisations which have declared themselves to be on ceasefire, it is difficult not to feel a sense of hypocrisy. Until such fundamentally destructive acts cease, Northern Ireland cannot truly know a peaceful future (paragraphs 198-200).

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