May I begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family of Dean Clarke, whose recent tragic death has brought home to all of us the harm that illegal drugs do to families and communities? The Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to prioritise action against drug dealers and traffickers, irrespective of their background or motivation.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that the paramilitary organisations on both sides of the divide that have diversified into drug trafficking, with all the devastating consequences for communities that the trade entails, have largely been able to maintain their political and military structures, which pin down those communities in fear, how concerned is he that a real battle needs to be fought against drugs in Northern Ireland and that it is being lost?
I do not agree that the battle is being lost. Of course, this is a matter of concern to me, whatever the background and whatever organisation is behind the trafficking and selling of drugs on the streets of Northern Ireland, but in fact the number of arrests for drug offences increased by 20 per cent. last year in Northern Ireland and the number of class A drug seizures increased by 58 per cent. This will remain a priority for the police, but, of course, they need the co-operation and help of the community to deal with the problem.
Given that the recent Independent Monitoring Commission report identified a number of paramilitary organisations that have changed the emphasis of their activities from paramilitary to drug dealing—Oglaigh na hEireann, the Continuity Irish Republican Army, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Ulster Defence Association, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force—and given that the street value of seized drugs in Northern Ireland in 2006-07 amounted to £22.5 million, what prospects does the Minister see for the devolution of policing and criminal justice?
I am confident that those in the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland will share my determination to ensure that those who deal in illegal drugs are dealt with, the drugs are seized and they are brought to justice. The hon. Gentleman referred to the seizure last year of some £22 million worth of drugs, and that included a huge seizure of cannabis, the biggest ever in Northern Ireland, which again amply demonstrates the commitment of the police and others to bear down on that form of criminality.