The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has urged the Secretary of State to end the practice of placing prisoners into the separated regime if their crime is one that is linked to organised crime gangs, regardless of whatever group they might be affiliated to.
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“It is absolutely clear the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) is beginning to have an effect and bite. The high profile targeting of crime gangs linked to the UDA and the INLA, as well as vigilante groups linked to republican dissidents such as Action Against Drugs has been overt, proactive and relentless. The news that the National Crime Agency (NCA) - as part of the PCTF - has for the first time seized a property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is welcome and a clear sign that there is a serious attempt to deal with these crime gangs.
“However there remains an inconsistency that surrounds how we view these crime gangs, how they should be referred to and what action should be taken against individuals once they have gone through the justice system and been found guilty.
“Presently the Department for Justice (DoJ) is highlighting to elected representatives that crimes are being committed by organised crime groups in which individuals fund their extravagant life style, where the tag of “Paramilitary” is often used as cover for their criminal behaviour. They have rightly suggested that public representatives should be referring to such criminals for what they are namely, organised crime gang members.
“Whilst I am supportive of such an approach I have to ask the DoJ what sort of message are they sending out when they continue to facilitate paramilitary structures in our prison system? That needs to change and in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly the Secretary of State should be making moves in conjunction with the Department of Justice to do this.
“Most loyalist paramilitary groups are quite clear that if anyone is caught involved in criminality using the cover of a paramilitary organisation, they do not represent them. All but a very few republican groups have to all intents and purposes abandoned their campaigns. I believe that the DoJ could start by making clear that there will be no new admissions under the separated prison regime.
“At the moment anyone who is linked to a paramilitary group can – if agreed by the SoS – be placed in a separate prison regime at Maghaberry. In essence this gives them the title and special status of a paramilitary even though they may have been arrested for actions considered to be part of an Organised Crime Gang. Furthermore, when they are in prison and once released to the charge of the Northern Ireland Probation Board (NIPB) they are known as Terrorist and Politically Motivated Prisoners (TPMO).
“This completely flies in the face of the message the DoJ want to get out that these people are simply criminals, and are not part of a special category of offender.
“Having brought a motion to the assembly in 2016 asking for a protracted end to the separated prison regime to bring our prisons into line with what we are striving to achieve in our wider society – a motion not supported by the DUP or Sinn Fein – I now ask if the PCTF is working as closely with the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and the NIPB as they should be.
“I therefore call on the SoS to stop the practice of placing prisoners into the separated regime if their crime is one that is linked to Organised Crime Gangs regardless if they are UDA, INLA or any other flavour of paramilitary. I also call on the NIPS and the NIPB to end the practise of referring to those within the justice system as TPMOs and instead refer to them in the exactly the same way they refer to any other individual who finds himself or herself within the justice system, having committed a crime.”