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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
NI progress 'threatened by crime'
The MPs said organised crime was a threat to political progress
Paramilitary involvement in organised crime threatens political progress in Northern Ireland, MPs have said.

The NI Affairs Committee report into organised crime was the result of more than six months of meetings taking evidence from a wide range of sources.

Committee chairman Sir Patrick Cormack said both loyalists and republicans were involved in human trafficking.

"It has not yet reached the dimensions of the rest of the UK but it is a disturbing new feature," he said.

"Illegal fuel sales, which are at an unacceptably high level, cigarette smuggling, counterfeit goods, illegal dumping, armed robbery - there is a paramilitary involvement in all of these things.

"Indeed, we have received quite astonishing evidence that on occasions loyalists and republicans work together."

The report said organised crime affected the Northern Ireland economy more so than in other parts of the UK.

Its recommendations for combating organised crime included a call on the government to urgently consider reducing fuel duty in Northern Ireland to the same level as it is in the Irish Republic.

The committee said this would deal a fatal blow to fuel smugglers.

However, Willie Oliver from the Road Haulage Association said he does not believe the government would consider it as an option.

Sir Patrick Cormack
Sir Patrick Cormack is chairman of the NI Affairs Committee

"From an economic point of view, for Northern Ireland business, it would obviously be very welcome to see a levelling of fuel duties as it is with most other taxes" he said.

The committee also said efforts to tackle organised crime would be significantly limited as long as Sinn Fein's refused to support the PSNI.

It warned that efforts to restore devolution would be completely undermined by another Northern Bank robbery.

Sir Patrick said: "The efforts of the PSNI will be limited as long as Sinn Fein withholds its support for, and recognition of, the legitimacy of the PSNI."

'Sufficiently rigorous'

Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, said his party's signing up to the Policing Board was "not the immediate solution".

"The loyalist and unionist communities give support to the PSNI, and yet many people would argue that if the statistics were provided, there is significantly more crime and organised crime in those communities," he said.

The committee also highlighted the failure of government to move quickly enough to regulate charities following claims that paramilitary groups were exploiting them to launder funds.

Its report also expressed concern about the involvement of professionals in organised crime, which, it said, was becoming more sophisticated in the province.

"It is incumbent on the professional bodies, such as the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accounts to satisfy themselves that their membership requirements are sufficiently rigorous and that observance of them is carefully monitored," the committee said.

Security Minister Paul Goggins said he welcomed the inquiry into organised crime and would give the recommendations careful consideration before responding to the committee.

"Organised crime creates victims in our society and the OCTF (Organised Crime Task Force) and its partner agencies will seek to protect our communities by continuing to relentlessly pursue those engaged in organised criminal activity, from whatever source," he said.

Ulster Unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, who sits on the committee, said her assembly colleagues should consider their relationship with the Progressive Unionist Party after evidence in the report showed the UVF was still involved in organised crime.

"I do hope, I do encourage Sir Reg and my assembly colleagues, to read the evidence... and report in great detail - I think they would benefit greatly from a reading of this report."

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