Dissident republicans are heavily involved in criminality such as armed robbery, extortion and drug pushing, a new report has revealed.
Despite denouncing organised crime and meting out punishment for so-called anti-social behaviour, dissident groups are still largely dependent on illegal rackets to fund their terrorist activities, the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) has claimed.
Over the past year they have generated significant sums of money from fuel laundering, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, burglary, insurance fraud, counterfeit currency and intimidation.
"Dissident republican groups also remain heavily involved in 'civil administration' and extortion against those they suspect of being involved in organised crime, in particular drugs supply," the OCTF annual report said.
Some loyalist paramilitaries including the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) are also still involved in organised crime. It is unclear how much of this activity has been sanctioned by the leadership, however some members were involved in extortion, money lending, robbery, contraband, drugs, burglary, thefts from the rural community and money laundering.
The OCTF is a forum which brings together government, law enforcement and a range of agencies. It was established in Northern Ireland in 2000 under the auspice of the Department of Justice and is chaired by Minister David Ford. Its annual report was launched at the Crumlin Road jail complex.
"During 2012/13 the murder of Garda Donohoe in the Republic of Ireland in January has brought home the dangers faced by those fighting organised crime. It also highlights the importance of the excellent co-operation that exists between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. The challenges faced by tackling organised crime of course extend well beyond the island. Organised crime groups operate into Great Britain and globally. Drugs and human trafficking victims are examples of this. Cyber Crime is another and we have recently established a sub-group on that issue," Mr Ford said.
Criminal assets worth about £2.1 million were recovered in Northern Ireland over the past year. There were 4,475 drug seizures -- almost 1,000 more than the previous year -- which took substances with an estimated value of £10.2 million off the streets.
Cannabis was the most commonly found drug but Benzodiazepines accounted for one-in-10 seizures with 95,542 tablets recovered. A further 11.6kg of cocaine, 1 kg of heroin and 6,000 ecstacy tablets were also removed by police during the past year.
"The emergence of new psychoactive substances has been challenging for law enforcement and also increases the risks for users who may be unaware of the true nature of the substance they are taking. A growing illicit market in prescription drugs is increasingly being exploited by OCGs (organised crime gangs) who are keen to make money, regardless of the potential impact on the communities in which they live. The extortion of those involved in drugs supply has also become a way for paramilitary groups to both raise money and exert control over the community," the report added.