The first of a series of planned updates on the progress being made in delivering the Executive Action Plan on Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime was held today.
The session focused on the role of law enforcement and the work of the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce which involves PSNI, NCA and HMRC.
Speaking at the event, Anthony Harbinson, Chair of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board said: “Paramilitary activity including organised crime, community control, and violence and coercion remain a very real aspect of community life in Northern Ireland.
“We know paramilitaries exploit their own communities and others through racketeering and criminality, and they seek to exert control through violence, brutally assaulting and shooting people. They also exploit vulnerability, including younger citizens who can so easily be drawn in.
“Paramilitary activity is holding people back and it needs to be tackled in a variety of ways. The response to the challenges presented and to the harm done in communities needs to be a collective effort.
“We need to support communities who want to make the transition, we need to promote a culture of lawfulness and confidence in our justice system, and we need to see robust law enforcement action against those who continue to harm our communities through their criminal activity.”
The Executive Action Plan is being implemented in response to more than 40 recommendations made by the independent Three Person Panel in May 2016, as part of Fresh Start Agreement.
Mr Harbinson added: “A great deal of work is already underway. We now have the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce which involves the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the National Crime Agency and HMRC and already, we are seeing operational successes.
“But this is about much more than law enforcement. Government departments, local government and our partners in the voluntary and community sector are also involved in a number of projects linked to the programme which focus on long term prevention, addressing social issues that affect communities, supporting the vulnerable to avoid being drawn in to this type of activity and helping individuals and organisations who want to make the transition.
“The Department for Communities is now working with a consortium of community organisations to deliver a programme aimed at increasing the participation and influence of women; the Housing Executive is delivering a re-imaging programme; and the Attorney General has rolled out his “It’s your law” programme to over 70 young people in support of developing a culture of lawfulness.”
Chief Constable George Hamilton and NCA Director General Lynne Owens also outlined the work of the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “The fear and misery caused in our communities by paramilitaries is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Tackling this problem has always been a priority for the PSNI and the funding made available through Fresh Start now allows us to build a dedicated team of experts to deal with all forms of criminality linked to paramilitarism, including paramilitary style assaults, extortion, intimidation, drug dealing and money laundering.
“The Team has developed incrementally during 2016/2017 and with the support of the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), our investigations to date have resulted in just under 100 arrests and 200 searches with 66 people being charged or reported to the PPS. Around £450,000 worth of criminal assets have been seized or restrained including over £157,000 in cash, drugs with an estimated street value of around £230,000 along with other goods including a range rover and a number of mobile food stalls. A number of guns, including a machine gun, as well as ammunition and pipe bombs have also been seized.
“We are now preparing to step up the pressure as we make our final preparations towards co-locating with our colleagues in the NCA and HMRC to form a new multi-disciplinary team – known as the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce – which will allow for a dedicated investigative partnership that will apply a long term and consistent focus on paramilitary groups. This will be complemented by our Policing with the Community Project which will see officers working with communities to end paramilitary crime.”
The event was attended by Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chloe Smith, Head of Civil Service David Sterling, Anthony Harbinson, Chair of the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme Board, George Hamilton, Chief Constable, PSNI and Lynne Owens, Director General, National Crime Agency.