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Organised Crime

Volume 606: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2016

3. What discussions she has had with Ministers of the Irish Government on cross-border efforts to tackle organised crime. (903782)

In December, I attended a trilateral cross-border ministerial meeting with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government. We agreed new measures to enhance law enforcement co-operation. A joint agency task force to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime has been created in line with the fresh start agreement.

While accepting that there are political uncertainties in the south as a result of the elections, does my right hon. Friend agree that the north and south face similar difficulties in combating crime, managing offenders and supporting victims, and that it is in everyone’s best interests that the Administrations of the north and south work closely together?

I agree entirely. Security co-operation between the UK and Ireland is better than it ever has been. I believe that it is saving lives every day in the fight against organised crime and terrorism.

It is a stain on our efforts to frustrate cross-border crime that, after decades of fundraising for and running the Provisional IRA, it took the Irish Republic to secure an Al Capone-style conviction on Thomas “Slab” Murphy. Does that not highlight the fact that much more needs to be done to frustrate not only those who proliferate across the border, but those who support and fundraise for ongoing terror in Northern Ireland?

The work that has been done by the Organised Crime Task Force and the PSNI over recent years in Northern Ireland is exceptional and very effective. I am convinced that the new strategy for paramilitaries in the fresh start agreement, in which the political parties went further than ever before in condemning paramilitary activity in the most forthright terms, and the cross-jurisdictional arrangements that were set up in the agreement will make Northern Ireland an even safer place than it is today.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products could lead to an increase in cross-border organised crime?

It is hugely important that the police do all they can to tackle tobacco smuggling and I know that it is taken very seriously. It may be something that can be considered by the new joint agency task force on cross-border crime. It is a serious crime and those who buy illegal cigarettes are supporting and funding evil criminals who are involved in significant violence. It is not a victimless crime and I urge everyone to avoid purchasing such products.

There was clearly a cross-border dimension to the horrific events of August 1998 in Omagh. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and I, and I am sure the whole House, extend our profound sympathies to the friends and families of those who lost their lives on that terrible day. The Secretary of State has referred to cross-border co-operation and said that the relationship between An Garda Siochana and the PSNI is at an historic high. Will she commit, here and now, to bend every sinew to extend and solidify that relationship, because we must never, ever allow an intelligence breakdown to occur again?

I can, of course, give the commitment that the UK Government and, I am sure, the Northern Ireland Executive will do everything in our power to enhance the co-operation between north and south, which is crucial. I associate myself with the comments of sympathy, support and condolence to the victims of one of the vilest atrocities that has ever taken place.