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Cross-border Crime

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2016

Along with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, the United Kingdom Government recently announced the creation of a joint agency taskforce to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime. It will enhance law enforcement co-operation in relation to, for instance, crime linked to paramilitaries.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement about the taskforce, but will she confirm that the fresh start agreement provides for additional funds from the United Kingdom Government to help to tackle continuing paramilitary activity?

It does. The fresh start agreement allocates £25 million for tackling paramilitary-related crime and £3 million for a new monitoring body, but it provides substantial additional funds for more widely based shared society initiatives, which are also crucial to ending the influence of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland once and for all.

We all know that, unfortunately, many organised crime groups on the island take advantage of the land border and commit the classic cross-border crimes of smuggling and excise evasion. The proceeds of those activities often go towards funding dissident groups. What efforts are my right hon. Friend and her ministerial team making to introduce preventive measures to eradicate such activities?

In Northern Ireland, huge efforts are being made by the PSNI to prevent the border from being exploited by criminals, and those efforts will be enhanced by the new joint agency taskforce, building on the excellent work already done by the police services both north and south of the border in recent years.

How concerned is the Secretary of State about the lack of convictions for fuel smuggling and, in particular, fuel laundering in Northern Ireland and the border regions?

Obviously, everyone would like to see more convictions. A crucial aspect of the fresh start agreement is the Executive’s commitment to measures that will reduce the time that it takes to bring people to trial, because convictions are more likely to be secured if trials take place in a timely manner. I am sure the Executive will take the implementation of that crucial part of the agreement very seriously.

Order. This is a very serious discussion of cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. We must hear Lady Hermon.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State will know that the Treasury has already announced the closure of a number of HMRC offices throughout Northern Ireland. Given that HMRC does a very valiant job in tackling cross-border crime, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give the people of Northern Ireland that those efforts will not be reduced if the offices are closed?

I am entirely confident that the changes relating to HMRC offices will not affect HMRC’s ability to tackle cross-border crime. Indeed, we will see an enhanced effort, not least because, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the proceeds of that kind of crime can end up in the hands of terrorists.