ID cards plan for building workers: Northern Ireland Office tries to stop the funding of terrorism by fraud

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BUILDING workers in Northern Ireland will have to carry personal identity cards if the first statutory worker registration scheme to be introduced since the Second World War is approved by ministers.

The Northern Ireland Office plans, aimed at stopping millions of pounds in construction industry fraud being siphoned off by the IRA and loyalist terrorist organisations, is expected to meet strong resistance because of its implications for civil liberties.

It is widely accepted that more than pounds 40m was channelled to terrorist groups in a variety of frauds between 1980 and 1985, and further large sums are believed to be involved through tax evasion, social security fiddles and extortion.

The province is swamped with forged and stolen documents enabling subcontractors to understate earnings and hide their indentities.

As well as identity cards for the province's 30,000 building workers, the proposals would prohibit cash transactions for the payment of wages and materials, and oblige all employers to gain licences and keep detailed records. To be registered all workers would have to have a bank or building society account.

Every identity card would include a photograph, signature and details of the holder's bank account. It would have to be carried at all times when at work and any abuse of the scheme would lead to criminal charges.

Disqualification penalties of two to five years are suggested, which would, in effect, prevent building workers from earning a living. Employers face unlimited fines and the possibility of imprisonment.

Andrew Puddephatt, director of Liberty, said the proposed scheme seemed draconian but needed to be examined in detail. 'We are very concerned about the erosion of civil liberties for a group of workers who are already struggling under a difficult working environment,' he added.

Limited consultation within Northern Ireland has taken place on the proposals, which are now being considered by ministers. The document says implementation would need legislation, with the regulatory scheme being set out in an explicitly anti-terrorist Bill.

An anti-racketeering squad of the RUC has been in existence for more than a decade.

The consultative paper details the most common methods of raising cash and says that construction costs may have increased on some sites by as much as 10 per cent as a direct result of extortion payments.

George Henderson, national construction secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said that the building unions had campaigned long and hard against casual employment.

'We have always been in favour of some system of regulation in construction but this proposal carries with it some serious civil liberties

implications,' he added.