The NI Affairs Committee’s report on Organised Crime has just been published following a long period of taking evidence, both in public and private, and is available online here – also available as a two part pdf file. It’s a wide-ranging report – summary here – which even touches on the proposed changes to liquor licencing, but it will be the section dealing with paramilitary involvement in organised crime that will, understandably, attract most interest. Update other reports here, and hereFrom the report:
12. The Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) reported in its 2005 Annual Report that all paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland “are heavily involved in organised crime both as a means of raising finance for their organisations and for personal gain”. The accounts that we have received during the course of our inquiry have confirmed this still to be the case. Since its inception, the IMC has regularly reported on the involvement of all paramilitary groups in organised crime. It has noted the specific areas of criminal activity on which paramilitary organisations tend to focus, including the tendency for republicans to predominate in cases of smuggling, armed robbery and fraud and for loyalists to specialise in drug crimes, intellectual property theft and extortion. It also believes that paramilitaries are involved in most types of organised crime.
13. The involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime is not a recent phenomenon. In public evidence from HM Revenue and Customs, we were told that paramilitaries have needed funding throughout their history and have acquired that funding “through different forms of criminality”. In its 2005 Annual Report, the OCTF noted the full range of fundraising activity that paramilitaries are involved in, including soliciting donations for so-called charitable organisations, using pubs and clubs to raise and launder money, providing unregulated “security” services, exploiting government grants, and counterfeiting documentation. Mr Nigel Smyth, Director of CBI, gave us to understand that “in the four big areas” (fuel smuggling, armed robberies, extortion and intellectual property crime), “the perception certainly is that the vast majority of that is paramilitary or ex-paramilitary”. The Federation of Small Businesses, told us that the majority of extortion and racketeering was believed to be carried out by paramilitaries.
14. We were told that paramilitary organised crime was operating in varying states of organisation and sophistication. Sir Hugh Orde told us that republican crime was “more organised and more sophisticated than loyalist crime”, although the less organised crime of loyalist groups was “equally difficult to deal with”. The Assets Recovery Agency told us that loyalist organisations had traditionally been “much more fragmented” and that the assets they derived from crime tended to be for personal, rather than organisational gain. By contrast, republican paramilitaries were more organised and the proceeds they derived from crime, while often greater than loyalists, were less visible, making them more difficult to find.
15. We heard reports in informal meetings about the unusual alliances between paramilitary organisations, including between republicans and loyalists, which were formed for certain specific, often drug related, organised criminal activity. Such alliances were ad hoc pragmatic arrangements.
16. We also heard how the traditional pattern of paramilitary organised crime was shifting. One witness described in private session the shift as being from “paramilitary terrorism to paramilitary crime”. It was becoming more difficult, given the changing political context, to establish whether the assets derived from organised crime by paramilitaries were being used for organisational purposes or for personal gain. Sir Hugh told us:
“It is very hard to judge what is paramilitary crime and, in the current debate, what is ordinary crime being committed by paramilitaries for their own gain rather than the organisation’s gain, certainly in relation to the provisional IRA”.
17. Mr Peter Sheridan, Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI with responsibility for organised crime, shared this view and argued that this was an ever moving picture and that no single, stable pattern of paramilitary behaviour could be identified. The IMC described a similar “complex and shifting” scene in its report of 26th April, 2006. It warned that:
“The process of paramilitary transition […] may also create a situation of added turbulence from which paramilitaries can benefit and which some may exploit as they look for alternative ways of life and new means of funding lifestyles they have become used to.”
18. Mr Paul Goggins, MP, the newly appointed Minister for Policing and Security, was emphatic that the law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland would continue to bear down on organised crime, paramilitary and non paramilitary. In giving evidence on 7 June 2006, he expressed concern at the current shift in the pattern of paramilitary organised crime and the potential for paramilitary gangs to mutate into professional organised criminal enterprises. He acknowledged that this presented a new challenge and would require law enforcement agencies to continue to exert pressure on organised criminal activity.
19. PSNI evidence detailed the considerable control that paramilitaries continue to have over communities and the deep rooted fear that this caused. They informed us that paramilitary groups use their “associations to exert control over communities in the belief that they can pursue their criminal activity with impunity”.
20. The IMC’s April 2006 Report summarised the harm that paramilitary organised crime caused to communities:
“Paramilitaries have roots in some parts of the community which enable them to profit more readily from major crime. For example, they control outlets for illicit alcohol, fuel and tobacco and sell goods within those communities. There is thus often what is described as a symbiotic relationship between the paramilitary criminal and the community, the former supplying goods for which there is a public demand and the latter tending to view the illicit trade as both beneficial because of the lower prices it offers and as victimless. In addition—especially amongst loyalists—some paramilitaries deal in drugs…The damage inflicted in the case of drugs is self evident. Other activities undermine legitimate businesses, thus reducing the job opportunities and discouraging investment, and so harming the interests of the very communities the paramilitaries claim to protect.”
21. Paramilitary organised crime continues to threaten the stability of communities in Northern Ireland and poses a real threat to future political progress. We are deeply concerned by the control which paramilitary groups from both communities continue to exercise over those communities, the fear that this creates and the attendant negative consequences that this has for the reporting of organised crime.
22. We share the Independent Monitoring Commission’s (IMC) concern about the potential for the process of paramilitary transition to create an instability which is open to exploitation by organised criminals with paramilitary backgrounds. It is vital that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and other law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland take every possible step to combat paramilitary organised crime. If this requires extra financial and logistical support, then we call upon the Government to provide it. Ministers should be in no doubt that their political efforts could be completely undermined by another Northern Bank robbery.
The highlighted paragraphs also appear as the first two paragraphs in the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
And from the report’s summary
Although our inquiry was conducted against a background of a Northern Ireland that has seen significant and far-reaching changes for the better in the last decade, it nevertheless demonstrated the damaging effect that organised crime continues to have on society and on the economy in Northern Ireland. The accounts we have received in private of individuals’ personal experiences of organised crime have revealed the continued involvement of paramilitaries from both loyalist and republican sides in organised crime. We are concerned by the control which paramilitaries or former paramilitaries continue to exercise over communities; the fear that this creates, and the consequent under-reporting of crimes in which there is a paramilitary involvement. This involvement gives organised crime in Northern Ireland a unique dimension and means that it has a more damaging effect on society and the economy than organised crime has in other parts of the United Kingdom.[added emphasis]