Crackdown launched on Ulster's racketeers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Efforts to crack down on paramilitary racketeering and drug-dealing were announced yesterday at the Labour Party conference by Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Efforts to crack down on paramilitary racketeering and drug-dealing were announced yesterday at the Labour Party conference by Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

An agency is to be created and given powers to seize assets and prevent use of land and property to launder money, with particular reference to groups suspected of moving from violence and into straight criminality.

Mr Mandelson said the authorities had some powers but these were not wide or strong enough. The Government wished to extend its reach to financial institutions concerned with investment and insurance, he said.

Mr Mandelson said his Northern Ireland Office minister, Adam Ingram, was to bring together the various police and customs agencies to try to disrupt paramilitary finances.

Saying that his aim was "to rid Northern Ireland of this mafia-like virus", Mr Mandelson said: "While our focus, rightly, is on defeating terrorism, we must now reach further and grip the organised crime it has spawned. That does not belong in a normal, civilised society. That, too, must come to an end."

The authorities have for decades grappled, without conspicuous success, with how to put the financial squeeze on loyalist and republican groups. Periodic attempts have been made to co-ordinate the activities of police, customs and other agencies.

Both sides in Northern Ireland developed structures to finance their campaigns of violence, some of which proved costly to keep going in terms of acquiring weaponry and funding the bombers and gunmen. In addition, republicans in particular are suspected of salting away large amounts of money, as investments and in terms of buying properties and running front companies. Although proof is in short supply, the general belief is that a number of pubs and clubs in Northern Ireland and elsewhere are controlled by paramilitary groups.

In the Republic of Ireland the authorities have established an agency which has had some success seizing assets of those suspected of involvement in criminal activity, in particular the Dublin drugs trade.

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, welcomed the Mandelson announcement, saying: "I'm glad to see that dealing with racketeering has got to the top of the Secretary of State's agenda."

Meanwhile, Mr Trimble has nominated two loyalist figures to a civic forum designed to complement the Belfast assembly by involving people from the community and voluntary sectors as well as the business world.

One of Mr Trimble's three personal nominees is Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party, which serves as the voice of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.

Although the UDA has been involved in violence during its continuing feud with another loyalist group, Mr McMichael is seen as a purely political figure who disapproves of violence. Another of Mr Trimble's nominees was Richard Monteith, a Protestant solicitor who represents Orangemen in Portadown, Co Armagh.

Comments