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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
NI gangs 'extorting millions'
Man in handcuffs
The task force aims to clamp down on organised crime
Up to 700 people are involved in organised crime in Northern Ireland with racketeering and extortion earning paramilitaries more than 125m every year, according to the police.

Anti-racketeering squads and criminal intelligence agencies from around the world gathered in Belfast for a three-day conference on Wednesday to discuss ways of tackling the issue.

Addressing the conference, the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, said the government would do all in its power to eradicate organised crime.

"I am determined that the legacy of the Troubles will not be a Mafia culture of organised criminal activity," he said.

"We will tackle all forms of organised criminality, whatever its source."

The government's Organised Crime Task Force is behind the three-day event which looks at tackling such criminality and those who profit from a range of money making rackets including illegal fuel, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, counterfeit clothing, dvd's and cash.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy addressed the conference at the Waterfront Hall

The police estimate there are 85 criminal gangs in Northern Ireland, two thirds of whom are linked to paramilitaries.

It is estimated the IRA receives between 5m and 8m a year, the dissident Real IRA nets about 5m, the UDA gets 3m, the LVF 2m and the UVF 1.5m through rackets and extortion.

The conference is being chaired by the PSNI's Assistant Chief Constable, Chris Albiston.

He stressed that people in Northern Ireland should be concerned about organised crime because it affects their everyday lives.

"There have been significant successes against those who are counterfeiting goods, those are counterfeiting money, those who are bringing drugs into this country to poison our children and those who are involved in the illicit fuel trade," he said.

Strategic direction

"But we must be realistic. We can see that the threat has not gone away - we can see there are significant parts of the economy where the people of Northern Ireland are losing out because the criminals and gangsters are benefiting."

The government says this it as a multi-agency response to a problem which has the potential to grow if its not tackled now.

Among those attending the Belfast conference are representatives from law enforcement agencies, the intelligence community, representatives from the criminal justice sector as well as academics and prosecutors.

The Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force was established in September 2000 to provide the strategic direction for a multi-agency approach to tackling organised crime.

Bringing together government, law enforcement and a wide range of other agencies, it is a forum where partner agencies can discuss problems, share information and agree priorities.

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