Minister of Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D.
15th Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk, Co. Louth
Chief Constable, Acting Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen I am delighted to be here for the first time at the Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime. This is the fifteenth year of the Conference and it has become a staple in our calendar since 2003 when the first conference was held. As such, it makes manifest our consistent and ongoing commitment to support enhanced cooperation between our law enforcement authorities north and south of the border in their efforts to tackle organised crime in all the forms that it takes.
And it does indeed take many forms. The evidence of this is to be seen in the 7th biennial Cross Border Organised Crime Threat Assessment which was jointly produced last year by An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Assessment provides an excellent insight into organised criminal activity on both sides of the border together with an assessment of the cross border nature of such criminality.
Before I go any further, I would first like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation to all of the agencies and organisations represented here today. The importance of the work that you do for our respective communities cannot be overstated. The social and economic costs of organised crime, particularly those arising from the illegal supply of drugs, represent an ongoing threat to the safety and everyday lives of our citizens. Everyone here plays a vital role in tackling organised crime on a daily basis, North and South, and I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for your continued determination in bringing those involved in criminal activities to justice.
I would also like to thank you for taking the time to invest in this conference, which continues to develop cooperation initiatives amongst the dedicated members of your agencies. The great attendance at the Conference today and tomorrow is indicative of the value of that time investment and your commitment, your openness and your cooperation that is essential to making our joint efforts a success in the ongoing fight against organised crime.
North-South co-operation at the policy and operational levels in combating serious and organised crime must be a dynamic process having regard to the ease of movement within the Common Travel Area and the ever-evolving nature of the challenges that it continues to present to law enforcement authorities. I need hardly say to this audience that those challenges are shared ones for all of us on this island, notwithstanding developments in relation to Brexit or more generally at political level.
The economic and social benefits of the Common Travel Area have been well aired and are of huge importance to communities North and South of the border. However, the freedom to enjoy those benefits and the advantages presented by the Common Travel Area also serve the motivations of those involved in serious and organised crime. We cannot allow the great gains made in the Peace Process, particularly as regards the "open border" to be exploited by people motivated by the pursuit of money and wealth - and let us not forget that that is what all organised crime is about. These people cannot and must not be let succeed in activities that have the potential to wreak havoc in the everyday lives of our people, particularly in communities where economic and social disadvantage exists.
As I alluded to at the outset, at last year’s Conference we had the publication of the 7th biennial Cross Border Organised Crime Threat Assessment. In this regard, it will be recalled that under the Fresh Start Agreement, there is a plan for tackling organised crime through the Joint Agency Task Force, which was established to identify strategic priorities for combatting cross border organised crime, and to oversee operational cooperation.
The work of the Joint Agency Task Force is another important strand of our ongoing efforts to tackle the scourge of organised crime on this island.
The Task Force brings together a range of expertise from across relevant agencies to focus efforts on a number of priority crime areas. I know that the strategic focus it brings will continue to have real impacts in bearing down on the criminal gangs who want to exploit the border. This inter-agency approach is essential in getting the greatest leverage from the range of skills and expertise in law enforcement that is available across the various sectors.
In addition to keeping up the pressure against what might be seen as the 'traditional' cross-border crime areas, such as fuel and tobacco fraud, the particular additional attention under the Task Force to rural crime, to human trafficking and to immigration-related crimes brings into focus areas where all of you gathered here can continue make a real impact on putting serious criminals out of business and making communities across the island safer as a result.
Over the next two days, the conference will hear about emerging crime trends and the progress made by law enforcement and Government agencies to tackle organised crime in a number of key respects including money laundering, mobile organised crime groups and excise crime. These topics are the ones of particular interest to the agencies and organisations this year and the workshops involved will provide an excellent opportunity to discuss them in more depth and so aid in identifying real and practical ways to further cooperate in these areas. I very much look forward to hearing about the progress made to date and the outcome of your discussions over the two days.
I am acutely conscious of the challenges to be tackled as we face into somewhat uncertain times. The Irish Government is ready to work to ensure that the necessary legislative, administrative and resource allocation arrangements are in place to maintain the very effective levels of cooperation currently enjoyed. It is essential that we continue to sustain the peace and prosperity built up over recent decades and I am confident that we can continue to work closely and effectively in relation to a range of criminal justice, policing and security matters.
In closing, I would like to express my appreciation once again for all of the vital work you are doing. I would also like to thank the Conference Planning Group, which includes representatives from the Department of Justice Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and my own Department for all their efforts in planning and organising the event.
May I wish you all an interesting and productive two days.