Naomi Long quizzed over 33 statements on UVF and UDA criminality - but not one about ongoing IRA ‘large scale smuggling’
Justice Minister Naomi Long has been quizzed on why probes overseen by her department continue to trumpet successes against the UVF and UDA - but make no mention of ongoing “large scale smuggling” by IRA members.
DUP MP Ian Paisley said this week that there is now a willingness to formalise a relationship “between loyalism and the DUP leadership”. But Mrs Long hit back that DUP engagement with loyalists is “completely inappropriate” if it involves “cosying up to loyalist terrorists”.
This prompted the News Letter to ask her department why the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) it oversees has published some 33 statements about operations against UVF and UDA terrorist groups since March 2020 - but not one about ongoing IRA smuggling.
The 2015 Northern Ireland Office report on paramilitarism - which the PSNI still affirms - said that IRA members are still involved in “criminal activity such as large scale smuggling”.
Ian Paisley MP, who has spent much time investigating fuel smuggling as a member of the NI Affairs Committee, said Mrs Long should clarify the issues.
“These are inconvenient truths which the Department of Justice should be asked to explain,” he said. “We should not have generalised comments that it is ‘criminal smuggling’ - we should have specific comments because we all know smuggling has been a key feature of IRA activity for the last 40 years.”
Mr Paisley said that in his experience, nobody who is arrested for fuel smuggling in NI serves a custodial sentence and there are no punitive fines, as those responsible are only required to pay back lost revenue to the exchequer.
“Yet the loss to the Treasury is probably measured in excess of a billion pounds.”
He added: “I have always feared there is a softly, softly approach which goes way back to Tony Blair’s day when I believe there was some sort of deal done with the Provisionals so that a blind eye would be turned to smuggling to shore up the peace process.”
“The fact that the OCTF is prepared to name and shame one section of the organisations involved - I have no problem with that - but I think they should be naming and shaming all of them.”
The News Letter asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) why the OCTF does not publicise successes against IRA “large scale smuggling” or make any appeals to trace the Northern Ireland Bank £26m stolen by the IRA in 2004?
This paper also asked why Mrs Long has not also spoken out in light of recent comments from Chief Constable Simon Byrne; In April he told the News Letter he still stands over the 2015 report, which says the IRA Army Council still “oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy”.
The DOJ responded that the OCTF is a forum “not an operational body” - but did not explain why it never publicises operations against IRA smuggling and only successes against UVF and UDA terror groups.
In response, Mrs Long did not say if she has ever critiqued ongoing IRA links to a political party.
“No matter if they are loyalist or republican, terrorists have no place in our democratic society,” she said. “I recognise people who have a past can also have a future: former paramilitaries are part of our community and have a right to express their opinion and engage politically, but it must be on the same basis as everyone else, and without the threat of intimidation or violence. It’s well past time that all of those engaged in paramilitary and terrorist activity desisted, disbanded and moved forward with the rest of us.”
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