Cross-border Criminality

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP 2:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

8. Mrs Dobson asked the Minister of Justice what steps he is taking to combat cross-border criminality. (AQO 9675/11-16)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

The fight against cross-border criminality is principally an operational matter for the two police forces and other law enforcement agencies, coordinated through the new cross-jurisdictional joint agency task force. The terms of reference for the task force were agreed at a ministerial trilateral meeting held in Dublin on 21 December. A strategic oversight group will be jointly chaired by the deputy commissioner for operations of an Garda Síochána and the PSNI assistant chief constable for crime operations. Other members will be senior representatives of other relevant law enforcement agencies. The joint chairs have already met twice, and the first full task force meeting will be in early March. An operations coordination group will be chaired by chief superintendents from the PSNI and an Garda Síochána. Membership will comprise senior operational representatives from a wider group of relevant law enforcement agencies to be decided by the group.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. I am aware of increases in criminal activity, particularly in Louth and Dundalk, which is leading to a bleed across the border, with the A1 dual carriageway and housing estates, including those in Banbridge, becoming particularly vulnerable. What reassurances can the Minister give that the PSNI, particularly in Banbridge, has the adequate resources to effectively address that issue and bring those responsible to justice?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I can guarantee only that the PSNI is provided with the resources that are available for me to provide to it. Members will be aware that the PSNI budget was significantly protected for next year compared with other aspects of the justice system. However, the precise allocation of resources across individual districts is a matter for the Chief Constable, not me.

I note Mrs Dobson's particular point relating to cross-border criminality. There is no doubt that the recent upsurge of drug-related crime in Dublin has led to a reallocation of resources by an Garda Síochána, which may well have had some effect in border areas. It is important that we see the arrangements continuing between the two police services. The joint agency task force will enable better coordination between the two.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer, particularly the latter points. Minister, you will be aware that there are some 88 gangs here in the North dealing drugs. Of course, we saw the recent gangland violence in Dublin. What reassurance and information can you give to the House around the tie-up and whether the models of Mafia-type violence in Dublin will spill onto our streets here in the North?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I can give the House the assurance that, on the information that I receive about there being very close coordination between the two police services, very good work is being done, particularly with the new structure of the joint agency task force, to tackle criminal activity.

Mrs Kelly referred to the number of gangs dealing in drugs. We should also be aware, of course, that many of them deal in a variety of different crimes. That is why it was a particular pleasure for me to see last week the very good work being done by HMRC in tackling diesel fraud. The new marker is extremely effective in catching vehicles that were using laundered diesel. Even in cases where the old marker has been laundered out, the new marker shows quite clearly. The good news of that is that it means that we are likely to see a reduction in diesel laundering, with all the effects on public health and pollution associated with it, which her colleague the Environment Minister will be well aware of. The bad news is that that probably means that some of those gangs will turn to other issues. We need to ensure that the police response is adequate on both sides of the border to deal with that.