Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2001

[back to previous text]

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): The Minister spoke at considerable length in attempting to clarify a number of issues to the Committee. We welcome the fact that a number of proposals in the order are very helpful in assisting victims.

Column Number: 26

The bereavement support payment that has been given in recognition of the grief and sorrow of the family is widely welcomed throughout Northern Ireland, as is the widening criteria for qualifying claimants. It is also very welcome that individuals who were not necessarily at the scene of a crime or terrorist incident are now going to be eligible to make an application. I wonder to what extent it may have helped in the situation of Mrs. Rita Restorick, the mother of the last soldier killed in Northern Ireland, a case that has had some recent publicity.

We know of cases in our own constituencies of people who have suffered great mental anguish as a result of a crime at which they were not necessarily present but which has had an effect on them. I also welcome the flexibility that has been built in for those who may have a criminal record and have been involved in violence, but whose injury is caused not as a result of that. A new leaf has been turned in many cases. That flexibility is welcome, as is its potential to reopen cases, especially of child sex abuse.

I have concerns, some of which were highlighted in the Assembly's ad hoc Committee report. The Assembly was asked for its views, and came to a unanimous conclusion in Committee, which was unanimously endorsed on the floor of the Assembly. The Government must accept those views and meet the recommendations through further consultation and feedback, rather than dismiss them. Further consultation may be necessary, as recommended by the Assembly.

The introduction of the tariff scheme is a major concern. Individual pain and suffering must be compensated on an individual basis. The Minister mentioned the 28-week period of loss of earnings for which compensation would not be payable. The Minister explained that the Government considered all cases, came to a general conclusion and applied a fixed figure. That will not take into account individual losses. Compensation is about returning people to the position they were in before the injury occurred.

The tariff scheme is applied across the board, which was not recommended by the Bloomfield review. It did not suggest that such a scheme should apply only to more serious injuries. I share the concern of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield that no one sum of money can compensate an individual for the pain and suffering that he or she has endured as a result of an injury; it has to be considered according to the individual's circumstances. The tariff system does not do that. For example, a facial injury may not be of a serious nature as defined by the order, but it would be of serious consequence to a young lady; more so than for an elderly person. A fixed sum in that sort of case would not take account of individual circumstances. For minor injuries to qualify, a victim must sustain three such injuries. What is the rationale behind that requirement?

The removal of paid legal advice is wrong. People have spoken eloquently about the role of Victim Support Northern Ireland. However, to install that

Column Number: 27

organisation, in place of qualified legal practitioners, as the main player advocating on behalf of compensation claimants—

Mr. Browne: We are not.

Mr. Dodds: The Under-Secretary indicates that that is not the case. However, if people want legal advice, they will have to pay for it. That is not an option for the vast majority of claimants; they cannot pay for independent legal advice. The Law Society and others recognise that. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission stated that it was concerned that those who worked with victim support in Northern Ireland are primarily volunteers without legal experience. The commission wants the legal profession to represent and give advice to victims.

The third area of concern is the removal of the right of appeal to the courts, which is in direct contravention of the recommendation of the Bloomfield review. I have heard no satisfactory explanation of why that right of appeal has been removed. The Human Rights Commission opposed its removal in its submission to the NI Assembly Committee. Bloomfield himself, in his conclusions, argued against the removal of the right of appeal to the county court. That should be looked at.

The Minister has said several times—he doth protest too much, methinks—that expenditure is not quite being reduced. Several submissions were made to the Assembly Committee in which that issue arose. I would be interested to know what the final saving would be. It is not just a question of saving money on legal costs. Under the proposals, less money will go to victims. That is the bottom line and we should assess the order on whether victims will be better off. In many cases, victims will be able to apply for compensation only through the scheme; the civil remedy is not open to them since no one can identify the perpetrator of the crime. If they were able to pursue a civil case, the amount of damages would be far greater under the ''Green Book'' that lawyers and judges use.

I urge the Minister to take on board the issues of concern on which the Assembly Committee unanimously agreed and reconsider some of the proposals.

4.26 pm

Mr. Browne: We will not be able to deal with all the important issues raised by hon. Members in four minutes; I regret that we are subject to that time limit. It is a pity that I had to take up so much time at the beginning to explain the scheme, although I hope that hon. Members appreciate the fact that I took the time to set out and explain the thinking behind it. We will be able to debate all the issues again when we discuss the draft order. I thank all hon. Members for their contribution. It has been an interesting, healthy and challenging debate. Our discussion augurs well for the debate on the draft order and gives us a good grounding for an informed and detailed discussion. We will return to several of the issues.

Column Number: 28

It has been my position from the outset that the recommendations grew out of a genuine desire to reflect the concerns of the victims of crime and to listen to what they had to say. Bloomfield started the ball rolling and I continue to run with it by listening to all that has been said today. Hon. Members must understand that the debate itself is part of the consultation process. We discuss orders of this nature in Committee as part of a consultation and listening process. We are still in that mode. I have to say in my defence—I hope that hon. Members will agree—that while I may not have listened to everything that has been said to me on legislation brought before the House, I have a track record of responding to suggestions and taking on board sensible recommendations. I am not gaining a reputation as someone who consults on a sham basis and does not listen. My record over a comparatively short period demonstrates the contrary.

Our debate reflects only a fraction of the consultation that has taken place on the proposals. The review team listened to victims and consulted widely; the proposals reflect that consultation. We have listened to the concerns, but I must have time to consider the observations that have been made. The Law Society of Northern Ireland entered its submission into the consultation at the last minute, and I have not yet had time to consider its observations and recommendations. However, all submissions will be considered. Where I have not been able to consider individual issues, I will write to hon. Members to help them to debate these matters with me again in the draft order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the proposal for a draft Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.

Drugs-related Crime

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stringer.]

4.30 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the involvement of paramilitary organisations in drug-related crime in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force document ''Northern Ireland Threat Assessment 2001'' states that:

    ''just over half of groups involved in drug dealing throughout Northern Ireland are believed to have paramilitary associations.''

I will give an example of the size of the threat. The document states:

    ''In the period 1 January 2000 to 30 November 2000, the RUC seized drugs worth £10.5 million. There has been a consistent rise in the amount of ecstasy seized in recent years, and a more significant rise in heroin seized in the last year. Just under half of the organised crime groups identified are listed as having drug dealing or trafficking as their predominant criminal activity. There is a marked difference between regions with 59 per cent. of groups in Belfast engaging primarily in drug-related activity compared with 40 per cent. in North and 33 per cent. in South. Dealing is far more widespread than trafficking. Whilst just over half of groups

Column Number: 29

    involved in drug dealing throughout Northern Ireland are believed to have paramilitary association, it remains difficult to prove paramilitary-directed involvement.''

I hope to answer that question in my concluding remarks.

A Northern Ireland newspaper that politicians sometimes read with trepidation is The Sunday World, which is edited by a strong character called Jim McDowell who is known to most of us. He recently gave an interview about a book he had just written called ''Godfathers'', and he referred to chapter 20, which is entitled ''The Drugs Buster''. The drugs buster is Superintendent Kevin Sheehy of the RUC. McDowell wrote:

    ''One of Sheehy's most outstanding contributions to the police service, and to the community in Northern Ireland, was when he headed up the RUC's Drugs Squad based at the Antrim Road barracks in North Belfast.''

Sheehy predicted a new ''terror war'' waged by drugs gangs.

The book also contains a revealing interview with Sheehy who is now retired. He took the Patten compensation package, as many senior officers have, and lost the RUC an experienced officer. He told McDowell that the drugs problem exploded in Northern Ireland about eight years ago. McDowell asked him if the paramilitaries had been in at the start of the drugs revolution. He told him that there was a major difference between the two groups.

    ''The Provos knew that this peace process was coming, and they knew that image was all-important, particularly with the Americans.

    They knew what the Americans were like with drugs. So the Provos were very, very clear that their activities weren't going to be allowed to be involved in drugs trafficking. Instead they engaged, or allowed, non-members to be drugs traffickers in West Belfast, Derry, Newry and so on and they agreed to take a percentage of the profits.''

So when we read the provos' propaganda that they have killed a drugs dealer, they are not wiping out drugs dealing, but are killing a drugs dealer because he has not paid the 50 per cent. commission. The so-called loyalist paramilitaries are not quite as sophisticated or as clever as the provos. Sheehy says that Protestant paramilitaries, the UVF and UDA in particular, do not have so many concerns about image and have long been involved in gangsterism.

In the interview, Sheehy breaks down the involvement, but before I quote again, I should list the organisations involved. The Provisional IRA, on so-called terrorist ceasefire, and the Official IRA, an organisation that we do not hear much about now, are up to their necks in gansterism and drug-dealing, the latter especially in South Down and around Newry—the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has left the Committee, but he will know about that. The UDA, LVF, UVF and the many associated paramilitary organisations of which the Minister will be well aware are also all up to their necks in drug dealing. I urge the Minister to read the book by Jim McDowell and the interview with Sheehy. He should also talk to Sheehy, even though he is retired, and the officers of the drug squad to evaluate the size of the threat.

Column Number: 30

The connections to paramilitary organisations come through in the United Kingdom, especially in Stranraer and Liverpool, which are two of the main trafficking centres. The heroin trade runs through Stranraer, and I will return to that subject. Many of the harder drugs come through Dublin and over the border. Loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations deal together in the import of drugs into Ireland to Dublin and through Belfast and Larne. The main links with the criminal fraternity are in Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester. Heroin has become a serious threat, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has a major problem with the large working-class Protestant estates of Ballymena, the heroin capital of Northern Ireland.

I was in Washington last weekend to talk to members of the Administration. I spoke an expert on Afghanistan, who told me that the State Department believes that Afghanistan, where we are fighting a war against terrorism, supplies 80 per cent. of the world's heroin. We are on the receiving end, not only in Northern Ireland, but in the whole of the United Kingdom. The international network of terrorism runs from the provos who were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s and has a spaghetti connection dealing in drugs throughout the world. There are links to the Palestine Liberation Organisation and its sister groups in both Syria and Iraq, ETA and, most importantly, in Cuba. The Cuban provo representative was not on holiday in Columbia when he was arrested, but supplying urban terrorist training in exchange for money that comes from dealing heavy drugs directly into the United States.

Drug dealers in the loyalist paramilitaries and those orchestrated by the provos are destroying large sections of society in Northern Ireland. Drugs are rampant throughout all the major working-class estates, which are now policed by the IRA, the Official IRA—especially in parts of South Down—the UVF and the UDA. When I was at school, far too long ago in the late 1960s, we did not see such involvement of hard drugs at every level of society in Northern Ireland. They are being sold in the estates to young people.

I welcome the initiative taken in February 2001 by the Minister's predecessor, the now Minister of State for Defence, with the rehabilitation schemes at the two RUC stations in Strandtown and Waterside. That applied to only two areas, and I believe that the Minister allocated £258,000. As the trial period comes to an end, I hope that he will consider whether the rehabilitation scheme, which is designed to stop drug-related crime, could be applied more widely, as it is on the mainland, to many more police stations in Northern Ireland, as that is one way of dealing with rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is one aspect, but there is only one way to deal with the problem. I said that I would outline the problem, but I do not like to do so without offering a solution. The Italians have successfully implemented a solution in their fight against organised crime and the best known of the crime organisations,

Column Number: 31

the mafia. The mafia is related to all worldwide terrorist organisations involved in drugs. The Italians have been able to deal with the mafia in recent years because they have made phone tap evidence admissible in courts of law.

We should examine the Italian example and its success rates. No one believed that the Italian Government would deal with mafia crime and terrorism. That, more than any other measure initiated in Italy, has allowed the Italian Government and Italian society to eat into the strength of their mafia.

All drug dealing is done on phones and mobile phones. Drug dealers are in every part of society. They are getting drugs in and doing drops in every part of Northern Ireland, and at clubs and raves throughout Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland and here on the mainland.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 December 2001