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Organised Crime

Volume 606: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2016

The UK Government are supporting the fight against organised crime through the police funding delivered through the Northern Ireland block grant, the £25 million to tackle paramilitarism due to be provided under the fresh start agreement, and the work of bodies such as the National Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The £160 million of additional security funding will support efforts on organised crime because of the involvement of terrorist groupings in that form of criminality.

In the fresh start agreement, the Executive committed to undertake a public awareness campaign to increase public understanding of the harm done to all communities by paramilitarism and organised crime. Given the impact that that has on businesses, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Executive to proceed quickly down that path?

A theme that came out strongly from the fresh start talks was the need for a whole community approach to tackling the problems of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland in order not only to continue the excellent work of the police and their security partners, but to ensure that the public are well aware of the harm done by organised crime and are supported in their efforts to give the evidence necessary to bring individuals to justice and put them in prison, where they deserve to be.

Since the National Crime Agency has, at long last, become operational in Northern Ireland, what efforts have been made to seize the assets of those involved in organised crime and reinvest them in community projects in Northern Ireland?

The NCA takes its duty to seize criminal assets very seriously. In that work, it will be assisted by the new joint agency taskforce on cross-jurisdictional crime, which will be established from April. It will consist not only of the NCA, Border Force, the immigration service and HMRC, but of the Irish Revenue Commissioners and the Criminal Assets Bureau. That will significantly enhance the excellent efforts already being made in Northern Ireland on these matters under the Organised Crime Task Force.

Fuel laundering and smuggling is part of organised crime. What recent assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the fuel marker that has recently been introduced, and is she convinced that it will be effective enough?

The fuel marker Accutrace was introduced in April 2015. A six-month report on its use was deposited in the Library of the House in November. The review suggests that the new marker is having a very positive effect. It is too early to say whether the reductions are sustained and to establish causality, but the results are positive so far.

With the number of police officers halving over the years, the number of groups involved in organised crime has more than doubled to 150, or possibly more. Does the Secretary of State see any significance in that?

I would emphasise that Belfast, and Northern Ireland, is one of the safest places in the world. There is a significant problem with criminality related to paramilitarism and of course a lethal threat from terrorists, but the UK Government are absolutely determined to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the brilliant work it is doing. The PSNI is assisted by the very strong co-operation with An Garda Siochana in bringing to justice those who seek to exploit the border for criminal purposes.