Ulster Unionist Justice Spokesperson Doug Beattie MC MLA, has welcomed the establishment of a new Task Force set up to tackle organised crime by paramilitary groups and warned that it needs to be backed up by a stronger sentencing policy and a fully resourced prison system, with an end to the separated regime.
Doug Beattie MC said:
“I obviously support any measures that will reduce the ability of organised criminal gangs to operate in our society and I especially welcome the involvement of the National Crime Agency and HMRC, and the specialist knowledge and expertise which they will bring to provide invaluable assistance to the PSNI.
“Only last week I said that either we as a society take terrorist violence seriously, or we don’t. And if we are taking it seriously then we need to see robust policing operations against terrorists and meaningful sentences against these individuals once they are caught.
“Clearly this Task Force is proof that robust policing operations are being deployed against paramilitary and criminal gangs and I very much welcome that. However, if the Task Force is going to be successful, then other factors must also be included.
“Firstly we need to be assured that all this hard work is not negated by courts continuing to hand out lenient sentences that act as neither a deterrent nor a punishment to criminals. Certainly last week’s five-year jail terms handed out to two republican terrorists who sought to commit mass murder by bombing a police recruitment event at a Londonderry hotel, did little to inspire confidence.
“Secondly, we also need to ensure that if and when we do send organised criminals to jail, the Northern Ireland Prison Service has the necessary resources to cope with extra prisoners and almost 20 years after the Belfast Agreement, we need to finally end the expensive charade of a separated prison regime for paramilitary prisoners.
“Finally, thought needs to be given to involving the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Probation Board in the Task Force, so that information and resources are shared in relation to prisoners entering or leaving the justice system who are likely to continue conducting or directing criminal activity whilst inside prison.”