The joint agency task force, created under the “Fresh Start” agreement, is tackling cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. The task force has completed a strategic assessment to identify priorities and is co-ordinating joint law enforcement operations against the criminals involved.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for welcoming the report of the joint agency task force. Does he welcome the success of the joint operations already carried out?
Yes, I certainly do. It is important that we maintain the focus on combating organised crime and on responding implacably to paramilitarism. I do recognise the successes to date.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. I am sure his previous experience as Security Minister will stand him in good stead. Does he agree that in this pending Brexit world, closer co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana is more important than ever? What plans does he have to make that happen?
I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments on the need for good cross-border working relationships between the PSNI and Garda Siochana. I have already had a conversation with Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Justice Minister, to underline that. We have very good relationships and I want to see them continue.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Does he agree that tackling cross-border crime involves tackling paramilitarism? Has he had a chance to look at the report published by Stormont yesterday with respect to action, in particular, to consider what may be done about decommissioning residual paramilitary weapons? How is that going to happen?
At the outset, may I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work? He and I have obviously had a number of discussions on issues of crime and security over many, many years. I welcome the publication of the Northern Ireland Executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. This represents another significant milestone in terms of the commitment set out in the “Fresh Start” agreement. It provides a positive basis on which we can now move forward, and I look forward to the more detailed action plan, which will be published shortly.
May I warmly associate myself with the comments made by so many other people? I note that this is now my sixth opposite number facing me—it is almost as if I am being used as a training aid for young, thrusting Tories.
Last week, when my hon. Friend Mr Anderson and I met Chief Constable George Hamilton, he expressed his grave concern about the implications for the European arrest warrant post-Brexit and the desire not to go back to the old extradition methods. What assurance can the Secretary of State give us that the European arrest warrant can survive post-Brexit?
I am always grateful to continue the interplay between myself and the hon. Gentleman in so many different ways. He makes a serious and important point about the European arrest warrant—something I was very conscious of in my previous role at the Home Office. I see this as a core part of the negotiations that the Home Secretary and others will be taking forward, recognising the huge benefit to the UK—and to Northern Ireland—of having those extradition arrangements under the European arrest warrant.
In respect of paramilitary groups that are engaged in cross-border organised crime as well, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to identify and deal with these individuals specifically?
I have already highlighted the work of the joint agency taskforce. It is a question of all the law enforcement agencies working together to identify the organised criminal groups. That is precisely the activity that is intended. Equally, I recognise the work that the National Crime Agency does more broadly, which absolutely helps to support this.
In Northern Ireland recently, incidents have increased and severe violence has been used at cross-border posts. Organised crime gangs and criminal networks outside of the islands are involved. Does the Minister recognise that the increase in crime needs to be top of the agenda in any forthcoming Brexit talks?
As I have already indicated, I do see the whole issue of safety and security as a priority. That requires good working relationships between the PSNI and the Garda Siochana. I had a meeting with Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in Belfast earlier this week to discuss those very issues, and this certainly is a matter that I regard as a priority in moving forward with my role.