Fuel laundering is a pernicious crime that was spawned in the Troubles of the past 35 years in Northern Ireland and, even in today's relative peace in the Province, it still leaves a very dark stain on our society.
Where once the illicit fuel trafficking was controlled by the republican terror groups (in particular the Provisional IRA), police and customs officers now focus their attention more on hardened criminals in border areas with a past history of IRA terrorist involvement.
The seizures of illegal fuel from retail sites in Northern Ireland over the past five years has been considerable (almost 600 seizures in total), but it is a matter of public concern that there have only been six related convictions, equating to a conviction rate of about one per cent.
Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue (HMRC) has, quite surprisingly, confirmed that it does not impose fines on those involved in laundering and retailing llegal fuel, but instead pursues a restoration of duty from those convicted.
However, the ineffectiveness of this is revealed by the fact that of the 20 people convicted of laundering and retailing illegal fuel since 2001, only six were forced to restore duty.
The apparent softly-softly approach by the Government agencies is very disturbing and totally unacceptable in the light of the 380 million lost to the British Exchequer each year due to fuel crime and, clearly, the lack of vigour in pursuing the criminals involved may probably be down to political expediency, for fear of raising some republican hackles in border areas like south Armagh.
The lack of will in coming to grips with the ongoing fuel criminality has been brought to the notice of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster and its chairman Sir Patrick Cormack has pledged to take the matter further.
Arrests must be made, assets seized and those involved in the flue smuggling brought to court and convicted. The illegal fuel smuggling operations must immediately be brought to an end.