Examination of Witnesses (Questions 445
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
445. Minister, it is nice to see you and Mr
Watkins and Mr White here as well. One of the questions we were
asking the Home Office officials, to which we got no answer at
all, was about the allocation of resources for the proposed Assets
Recovery Agency to be devoted to Northern Ireland. Are you satisfied
that what they are going to give you is appropriate and adequate?
(Jane Kennedy) First of all, it is a real pleasure
to be here especially as this is the day after the tenth anniversary
of my election to Parliament, so it is a double pleasure to be
446. Oh, to be that young again! Put that on
the record please.
(Jane Kennedy) Chairman, I am aware that the detail
of the numbers of officers, the size of the office and so on has
yet to be determined, it is still in its development stage, but
the fact that there will be an Assistant Director of the ARA in
Northern Ireland and that there will be a physical presence gives
me a great deal of encouragement and leads me to have confidence
that the Home Office will in fact give the ARA as it develops
the resources, particularly bearing in mind the nature of the
work and task that they will face in Northern Ireland. At this
stage the details are still being worked out. It is too early
to say the numbers that will be involved. The Assets Recovery
Agency will be coming into Northern Ireland into an area where
there has been a significant amount of co-operation between the
agencies already. They will want to mesh in with that so the establishment
of the new office there with the important aims and objectives
that it has will take some time before we see how big it is going
to be. It is certainly of great interest to me that it has the
resources that it needs to carry out its functions.
447. These resources will all be Home Office
or will some of the resources come from the Northern Ireland Office?
(Jane Kennedy) The resources for the ARA will be Home
448. That of course is the problem, is it not?
I do not want to get you into intra-governmental difficulties.
The Home Office did not resile from the suggestion that you will
probably get about four staff. They said it was not finally decided
but given, for example, the Criminal Assets Bureau in Dublin has
got 44 staff for their three million people, four staff for 1.5
million does not seem many. I trust that you will be battling
hard to get more than that?
(Jane Kennedy) Certainly it will be necessary for
the ARA office in Northern Ireland to have the resources that
it needs. It is the first I have heard of that figure of four.
449. Mr White heard me put it to the head of
the Home Office department, Mr Stadlen, who did not disagree.
He said that it is not finally decided but if that is how the
100 staff will be split up, Northern Ireland would get four.
(Jane Kennedy) I would just say this. I would expect
the ARA to develop over time, as I assume the Criminal Assets
Bureau in Dublin developed
450. Yes it did.
(Jane Kennedy) I would not want to respond to the
figure of four. I would have to take that away and consider it.
451. I am sure you have noted it with interest.
As I say, I do not want to make internecine difficulties between
you and the Home Office but one of the problems, of course, is
that this is something that is crucial to your own efforts to
combat organised serious financial crime and yet you do not have
a handle on any of the resources or the budget that is going towards
(Jane Kennedy) We have close working relationships
between officials. I know that Mr White has been involved with
the Home Office in developing the project and making sure that
the Northern Ireland interests have be taken into account by the
Home Office. As I say, it still has not yet been finally determined
but in fact the Director of the ARA with his annual plan and his
set of priorities will have to take into account the work, for
example, of the Organised Crime Task Force, and clearly resources
are an issue that we debate constantly within government.
452. Again Mr White heard all this but I want
to rehearse it because it seemed to us so extraordinary. When
they arrived at their figure of 100 staff to start with, I asked
the question, "In your consultations with the Northern Ireland
Office did you come away with the impression that they have a
greater or a lesser or much the same problem as, for example,
Scotland or England?" and they did not know the answer to
(Jane Kennedy) They did not have an answer?
453. I would have thought you would have told
them very robustly the problems of the land borders and the problems
of smuggling and all the other problems you know you have got
that we know about and sympathise with you about and it would
have been made abundantly clear to them that the problem is far
greater proportionately in Northern Ireland than the rest of the
(Jane Kennedy) It is hard to account for the comments
of an official in a department that is not my own.
454. I know it is. We are trying to help, let
me make that quite clear.
(Jane Kennedy) I hear the assistance that you are
455. We are the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee,
we are not the Home Office Committee, and we are entirely on your
side. We are very concerned that they do not seem to have got
the message that the problem is significantly different in Northern
Ireland. Mind you, we have found this in other matters, have we
not? I am just wondering whether you put your case robustly enough,
which is a matter for you to decide. All I think I can tell you,
and Mr White will confirm this, is that the message does not seem
to have got across.
(Jane Kennedy) The figures you have put to me are
the first figures I have heard. I have had discussions with Home
Office Ministers about various aspects of the Proceeds of Crime
Bill, although I certainly would obviously return to the issue
of resources, as I will do from time to time with most of my ministerial
456. Okay. Does anybody have a question on that
(Jane Kennedy) I am entirely in your hands but I had
thought I would say a few words to perhaps put my evidence in
457. Of course you can and we will listen with
interest. I am very sorry, it is just that was all fresh in our
minds after that session.
(Jane Kennedy) I am grateful for the chance to hear
it first hand while it is still fresh. It is certainly of interest.
458. You can read the transcript. We will make
sure you get it.
(Jane Kennedy) From the outset I share the objectives
you clearly have in mind in conducting this inquirytrying
to establish the sources of funding of terrorist organisations
and shine a light on the illegal activities in which paramilitaries
are engaged in order to raise funds. As the Security Minister
but also as Chair of the Organised Crime Task Force, I devote
all of my time and energy to tackling the influence of the paramilitaries
wherever it surfaces, whether it is the organised criminality
that you would associate with the drugs trade or the cross-border
smuggling or the serious public disorder in North Belfast or,
indeed, attacks of dissident Republicans. So whilst the focus
of your inquiry is rightly on the financing of terrorism, I hope
you will not mind me pointing out that the lines between terrorism
and organised crime in Northern Ireland are blurred and have become
increasingly blurred over the years, and approaching either problem
in isolation runs the risk of overlooking the common ground that
exists between the two. Both terrorist cells and organised gangs
depend on a group of individuals who operate in secrecy with the
same need to launder the proceeds of their activities regardless
of whether that is for the personal financial gain of the individuals
or to finance their terrorist activities. This was the reasoning,
Chairman, which lay behind the establishment of the Organised
Crime Task Force in September 2000. The feuding between the Loyalist
paramilitary groups that took place during that summer had raised
the profile of racketeering in general but even before that there
was increasing disquiet amongst ordinary, law-abiding people at
criminal figures living extravagantly beyond their apparent means,
Johnny Adair being the most visible example of that but there
were many others. The Task Force was therefore established to
tackle gangsterism as we saw it across the board. The principle
behind the Task Force is to attack the criminal element of organised
crime whatever its source and whoever is involved in it. Using
an analogy that was recently quoted to me by a senior military
officerI spend a lot of time with military officers.
Chairman: That is why you are getting so much
better at your job!
Mr Pound: Your private life is your own business!
459. I could not resist that one.
(Jane Kennedy) To use an example, you might see it
as being like going for the wagon trains behind the enemy lines
in order to deprive the enemy of essential provisions at the front.
The Task Force is an integral part of our overall commitment,
expressed in the Belfast Agreement, "to secure lasting peace
and a safe and prosperous society in Northern Ireland". One
destructive legacy of the Troubles is that the terrorist godfathers
have been able to use the organisational networks that are in
place, combined with the fear that they engender within their
communities to line their own pockets, for whatever purpose. Keeping
control of the communities in order to make money has become an
end in itself. Having said that, not all aspects of organised
crime in Northern Ireland are linked to the paramilitary organisations.
Last year the Task Force identified 78 organised crime groups
involving about 400 individuals and about half of the groups had
links to paramilitary organisations. A similar picture is emerging
in this year's threat assessment which we intend to publish on
16 May. We may want to talk about ways in which we can share that
with the Committee while you are considering your report. I do
not yet have the full findings of the year two threat assessment
and indeed some of the detailed figures are still changing, but
I can tell you that the emerging results look encouraging with
respect to the impact that the Task Force has made. I hope you
do not think I am just putting a spin on that report. I hope you
will see when the report comes out that it will confirm that.
I think the success of the Task Force has been its ability to
support organisations and agencies by enabling them to take the
lead in tackling organised crime. The Task Force has done it by
bringing the agencies together in a way which, whilst at the same
time is respecting their necessary independence and their autonomy,
has enhanced their effectiveness by enabling them to share information.
I hope that you have heard that from the other witnesses that
you have called before you. This process has added value to their
existing work because it has enabled the agencies to reach agreement
at a senior level and to commit resources and to assist each other.
I believe that success is all the more impressive when one considers
that both the Police Service in Northern Ireland and Customs &
Excise are undergoing a colossal process of change. This has enabled
both organisations to think about their own response to organised
crime. Both have put in place new arrangements for managing their
own response. The crucial difference for both agencies is that
they have restructured with closer co-operation between them in
mind. The Task Force has enabled that to happen but it has also
a role to play in co-ordinating and focusing the efforts of the
agencies and to lend assistance wherever the agencies themselves
believe that that will help. So, for example, Paul Boateng and
I will shortly help Customs to launch a multi-agency expert group
to tackle the problems of road fuel duty evasion. As I am sure
you are aware, there is a substantial loss of revenue to the Exchequer
which was estimated at around £380 million in the year 2000.
That revenue loss results from both legitimate cross-border shopping
but also from fraud. It is envisaged that the expert group will
be chaired by Customs and attended by senior representatives of
both the PSNI, trading standards officers, the Health and Safety
Executive, the Environment Agency, and indeed local authorities.
So very quickly, Mr Chairman, looking to the future, I would like
to assure you and members of the Committee that we are in this
for the long haul. We see the Task Force as a permanent feature
of life in Northern Ireland. We know that it can take years to
dismantle an organised crime group or in fact to prosecute a key
individual within such a group. That does not mean we have to
wait for years to see a result. The disruption of an organised
crime network and the removal of profit incentives and the staying
ahead of emerging crime trends all help to undermine organised
crime. I believe that the first year's results when you see them
will demonstrate that a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach, supported
by strong political will, is the right way to tackle this problem.
In this respect the creation of the new Assets Recovery Agency,
which we were just discussing, with new powers to pursue and recover
assets resulting from criminal activities should prove a formidable
addition to the arsenal, given the resources.