104. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the work of the cross-Border crime task force; the budget of the task force in 2018; the number of permanent staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49987/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the agreement
A Fresh Start, The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan, as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross jurisdictional crime. These measures included the creation of the Joint Agency Task Force.
The Joint Agency Task Force is just one positive example of the extensive North-South co-operation that is undertaken between the police and other law enforcement agencies aimed at tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on this island.
This Task Force is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs. A number of other relevant bodies, including the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau are also involved in operational activity. The objective of the Task Force is to build on existing law enforcement frameworks and to increase the collective effectiveness of operational law enforcement actions.
The Strategic Oversight Group of the Task Force is chaired jointly at senior management level by the two police services in order to provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities. This group also includes senior personnel from the other relevant agencies.
Senior officers from An Garda Síochána and the PSNI jointly chair the Operations Co-ordination Group, which is bringing forward the operational actions in six priority areas that have been the focus of the work of the task force: Rural Crime; Immigration-related Crime; Excise Fraud; Drugs; Financial Crime and Human Trafficking. These priorities are, of course, kept under ongoing review. There has been very considerable operational activity, with a variety of different operations undertaken across all of the priority areas since the establishment of the Task Force. I commend the efforts of all of the agencies involved in this important work.
As the Joint Agency Task Force is a multi-agency coordination structure it does not have a necessarily defined staffing complement or budget. Personnel from the participating agencies in both jurisdictions are assigned for specific operations and other capabilities from the relevant agencies are deployed as required consistent with operational demands.
Under the provisions of the Agreement, a report of the work of the Task Force is provided by the Strategic Oversight Group to the six monthly meetings of Justice Ministers in the framework of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters. Two such reports covering the first twelve months of the operation of the Task Force have been prepared and submitted to the two Justice Ministers over the course of 2016.
While there has been a hiatus in the normal reporting arrangements given the current impasse in the Northern Ireland institutions, I want to assure the Deputy that this has not impacted on the continuing operational work being carried out by the Task Force, which maintains its focus on tackling serious cross-border crime.