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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 17:44 GMT
Hijack risk 'must be addressed'
A cigarette lorry was hi-jacked before Christmas
A cigarette lorry was hi-jacked before Christmas
Road hauliers have met Stormont minister John Spellar to demand the upgrading of the main Belfast to Dublin route at the border.

The meeting on Wednesday came amid concerns raised by DUP assembly member Ian Paisley Jr that jobs could be lost at a Ballymena cigarette factory if security was not improved for deliveries to the Republic of Ireland.

Last December, cigarettes worth 1m were stolen when a lorry was hi-jacked close to the Irish border.

Cigarette firm Gallaher, which is one of Ballymena's major employers, has called for extra security measures to allow it to transport its products across the border.

The company confirmed it had held discussions with the police but was not given any guarantees over the safe movement of its cigarettes into the south.

It refused to comment on reports that it was shipping cigarettes across the Irish Sea to England and back to Dublin, rather than risking delivery by road.

Speaking after meeting Mr Spellar, Phil Flanders of the Road Haulage Association said something had to be done about the road before jobs were lost.

"It's not just security measures but also the state of that part of the road at the border," he said.

"It's so narrow in parts that it's like a country lane, which makes it easy to stop vehicles because there's so many slow moving vehicles on that part of the road.

We recognise the difficulties and the connections between the organised criminal networks and the paramilitary organisations
Jane Kennedy
NIO security minister
"We would urge both governments to make it a priority to upgrade that road."

North Antrim assembly member Ian Paisley Junior said Gallahers had looked at and used alternative routes, and said that jobs were at risk.

"Gallaher owns other plants outside of the UK in eastern Europe," he said.

"If it becomes too dear to manufacture and transport them from Northern Ireland, their product will be made elsewhere and that will reduce jobs.

"A question has to be asked... those people who are involved in these heists, is that what they want? Do they want people out of jobs?

"Do they want to see Northern Ireland brought economically to its knees, because that's exactly the consequences of their actions."

Mr Paisley said he had raised the matter with Prime Minister Tony Blair and is due to meet Gallaher and the secretary of state within the next ten days.

In the House of Commons, Stormont security minister Jane Kennedy confirmed that the government was in contact with police over extra measures in border areas.

Fake checkpoint

Ms Kennedy told MPs at Northern Ireland Questions on Wednesday she was aware of the concerns that had been expressed by the company.

"We recognise the difficulties and the connections between the organised criminal networks and the paramilitary organisations," she said in response to a question from Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside.

"Questions of resources are a matter for the chief constable - we remain in close touch with him to ensure that he has the resources available to combat these very important and serious problems."

In the hi-jacking near Jonesboro just before Christmas, a gang dressed as road service workers stopped the lorry at a fake checkpoint on the main Belfast to Dublin Road, close to the border with the Irish Republic.

They smashed a window in the lorry's cab, then tied up and blindfolded the driver.

He was taken in another vehicle to another location, and was questioned for a time before being released. The driver sustained minor injuries during the incident.

The cab was later found burned out in nearby Killeavy, but the cigarettes were not recovered.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Rosy Billingham reports
"Not all hijackings make the headlines, but they keep happening"



SEE ALSO:
Bogus workmen hijack lorry
15 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland


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