The time has come for a crackdown on paramilitary crooks

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In this newspaper today, Alex Attwood calls for an Ireland-wide war on organised crime.

We fully back the SDLP MLA’s suggestion.

Stamping out smugglers, terrorists and fuel launderers is a sphere in which the authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic should work closely.

Mr Attwood’s party belatedly did the right thing when it backed the introduction of the National Crime Agency in the Province, which will make the push against criminals easier.

Tuesday’s report on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland was a depressing reminder of the continuing power of terror gangs. It might be that they have generally agreed not to attack “the other side” but this is not enough.

We need to become the sort of society in which murderers, be they paramilitary killers of Robert McCartney or non terrorist killers, serve life or almost life in jail, not a 15-year ‘tariff’.

We need to become the sort of society in which those behind major crimes such as the Northern Bank heist are relentlessly pursued until they are caught and jailed for long spells.

We need to become the sort of society in which wealthy thugs who launder fuel and cheat the Irish and British taxman in the process are put behind bars and out of business.

And we need to become the sort of society in which loyalist paramilitary parasites are similarly punished.

Unionist politicians are right to show concern about the poverty and social problems in working class Protestant estates, and also to support those local leaders who are determined to lead their community away from crooks and gunmen, even if those leaders have a paramilitary past. But while a past does not preclude a future for republican or loyalist ex prisoners who have left criminality behind, it must be clear that anyone who stays involved in drug dealing or protection rackets will (at the least) swiftly have their flash cars and homes seized.

Northern Ireland has to keep on the path towards becoming a normal democracy, in which there is an unbreachable gulf between being a criminal and holding elected office.