CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Minister of Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, T.D.
16th Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime
Slieve Donard Hotel, Co. Down
Opening Speech of Conference
Commissioner, Deputy Chief Constable, heads of agencies, delegates, it is an honour to be here at the Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime.
I am delighted to be welcomed by our recently appointed Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, who is obviously no stranger to this event. His appointment to head up An Garda Síochána further underpins the excellent cooperation that has been growing between the two police services over the years.
Now in its sixteenth year, this Conference, as the theme ‘Shared problems, shared solutions’ suggests, remains a vital forum for discussion and exchange of information for the law enforcement agencies that help to protect and support our communities north and south of the border. I am very happy to see the ongoing high levels of participation at this event. This demonstrates our joint commitment to support enhanced cooperation between our law enforcement authorities in their efforts to tackle the continuing threat posed by organised crime in all its forms.
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 are very significant and the activities of organised crime groups are an ongoing threat to the safety and 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 working to prevent crime and bringing those involved to justice.
The Gardaí and PSNI, along with the other agencies present in this room, have worked together closely for many years and enjoy an excellent working relationship and cooperation at all levels. This North-South partnership has been and will continue to be key to the security of the island of Ireland.
This is particularly true given the present distinct challenges that we face with the advent of the UK's departure from the EU, the rise in transnational organised criminal gangs and networks, the continuing lethal terrorist intent of the paramilitary groups, and an increasingly globalised and digitally enabled criminal class.
On the subject of paramilitary groups, we are all acutely conscious of the potential danger from these groups that the women and men of the PSNI face every day when going about their job of policing Northern Ireland for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
We also know that these groups are deeply and inextricably involved in crime to fund their aims and their lifestyles. I know that there is absolutely excellent co-operation between the Gardaí and the PSNI in putting pressure on these criminals and in working to put them out of business permanently.
I doubt anyone in this audience will dispute the huge dividend from the peace process and the many social, political and economic advantages that have derived over the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed and it is vital that we keep working to ensure these benefits are not compromised or diminished.
However, it is also the case that violent dissident republic groups continue to seek to frustrate counter-terrorism efforts and organised criminals routinely cross between the two jurisdictions in order to try to evade detection.
In this context, I note from the Cross-Border Threat Assessment prepared jointly by the PSNI and An Garda Síochána analysis units for this conference that some 43 per cent of organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland have a cross-border dimension. Likewise, mobile organised crime groups, responsible for multiple instances of domestic burglary, operate on an all-island basis. Indeed, there are increasing instances of borderless crimes such as cyber fraud and international terrorism.
The Irish Government is determined that there will be no hard border and no return to the daily violence which pertained for over 25 years and we have secured agreement on this from our EU partners and the UK Government.
But there will always remain a significant policing challenge. And it is the case that the only means of mitigating these crime and security risks is the continuing excellent levels of cooperation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border and indeed maintaining close links with other partners.
My view is that this partnership between our agencies must be broadened and deepened for the mutual benefit of our communities.
To that end, a key priority for the Irish Government is to ensure that the necessary legislative and administrative 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.
The Joint Agency Task Force, established under the Fresh Start Agreement in 2015, brings together a wide range of experts drawn from policing, revenue and other enforcement agencies across both jurisdictions.
It is an indispensable element in our joint strategy to tackle the scourge of organised crime on this island. The Task Force's strategic focus on a number of priority crime areas will continue to have real impacts in disrupting and dismantling the criminal gangs who want to exploit the border. The inter-agency approach is essential in maximising the wide range of skills and expertise in law enforcement that is available across the various sectors.
The success of this approach is evidenced in many recent operations undertaken by the Task Force. To take but one example from the Eighth and most recent Cross Border Threat Assessment, in March 2018 an investigation by the Task Force involving An Garda Síochána and the Irish Revenue service led to the seizure by the PSNI of a large quantity of herbal cannabis at Dromore Co. Down, worth £1.3 million pounds that had been concealed in a large fuel tank delivered from Spain. That is an exceptional result which prevented untold harm.
In addition to targeting the 'traditional' cross-border crime areas, such as fuel and tobacco fraud, the particular attention paid by the Task Force to rural crime, to human trafficking and to immigration-related crimes brings into focus areas where all of you gathered here today can continue to make a real impact by putting serious criminals out of business and making communities across the island safer as a result.
In this regard, I commend recent joint enforcement operations by the Garda and PSNI targeting criminal groups involved in organised prostitution, modern slavery and Common Travel Area enabled human trafficking.
Similarly, joint actions took place in the summer of this year targeting organised criminal groups involved in burglary where crossing the border was a key part of their criminal modus operandi. The success of these cooperative cross border policing actions provides a sound basis for future joint policing initiatives.
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 areas including human trafficking and modern slavery, VAT carousel fraud, and the confiscation of criminal proceeds.
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.