Organised Crime

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28 March 2001.

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Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 12:00, 28 March 2001

If he will make a statement on measures being taken to combat organised crime in Northern Ireland. [154340]

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Last Friday, I launched the first-ever publicly available assessment of the threat to Northern Ireland from organised crime and the strategy for countering that threat. The threat assessment is the work of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the strategy is the work of the Northern Ireland organised crime taskforce, which was established in September last year.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Particularly in view of our present difficulties, does my right hon. Friend regard the organised smuggling of sheep and cattle as a serious criminal activity? What plans has he to deal with it?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Yes, I share that view. The foot and mouth outbreak is primarily a matter for the devolved Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, the organised crime taskforce takes livestock smuggling seriously and work is already under way to tackle that harmful threat. The recently launched threat assessment identifies at least two organised crime groups involved in illegal movement across the land border with the Republic of Ireland, not to mention a number of individuals who are also involved. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the RUC and other law enforcement agencies, the devolved Administration and the Government are determined to take that on with full vigour.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I am sure that the Minister has seen the welcome condemnation by the Irish agriculture Minister of the code of silence that has existed among the smugglers of South Armagh and Louth—the people who brought foot and mouth to Ireland. Although the measures that the Minister announced last Friday are welcome, does he agree that if we are to get on top of organised crime—in respect of which the smuggling of animals, fuel, tobacco and drugs is the most significant manifestation—we need to find ways to mobilise all society to change the culture of those areas so that people there realise that they cannot continue in the state of lawlessness that has marked them over the past few decades?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good and valid point. Part of the reason for the law enforcement agencies being unable to achieve more success is that there is so much fear and intimidation in Northern Ireland. That makes it difficult to bring people to justice. Part of the strategy that we have launched, which he fully supports, is to try to create greater public awareness of the extent of the problem and the way in which it corrodes, eating into the very heart of the society of Northern Ireland. That relates to another issue that he raised—the cross jurisdictional effect. Crime knows no borders and no boundaries. Together, the Governments will look for ways in which we can further tackle the threat.

Photo of John McFall John McFall Labour/Co-operative, Dumbarton

I congratulate the Minister on his latest initiative to crack down on the 400 paramilitary and non-paramilitary individuals who are involved in organised crime, but does he remember the comments of Danny Morrison, the IRA propagandist, who said: It is hard to maintain the revolution when people have a colour TV in the living room and a car in the drive"? The Northern Ireland economy has been robust over the past few years and unemployment, on 1997 levels, is down by more than 40 per cent. What initiative does my right hon. Friend have to keep promoting that fall, getting young people into jobs and taking them away from the lure of the paramilitary organisations?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

As the House knows, my hon. Friend served for a time as a Northern Ireland Minister, and followed me as Minister responsible for the economy. We can take some satisfaction from the way in which that economy is succeeding on the back of policies implemented by the present Government. The best message that could be sent from the House would be sent by the return of a Labour Government, by the continuation of policies that have been successful, and by that United Kingdom Government's working with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to increase prosperity there. That can better be achieved when we eliminate organised crime from Northern Ireland society, and bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May I appeal for quiet on both sides of the House? The noise that is being made is unfair to hon. Members who are listening to Northern Ireland questions.