Community schemes handed £800k crime cash
Almost £800,000 of criminals' ill-gotten gains will be used to fund community projects in Northern Ireland this year, the Justice Minister has announced.
The redirection of the assets was made possible after an agreement between David Ford and the Home Office in London.
Mr Ford outlined the benefits of the scheme as he watched a Cage Soccer match at Stormont - an innovative football project set to be supported by seized assets.
The mobile pitch can be transported to wherever it could be of use within a community.
The novel youth diversionary programme on show outside Parliament Buildings was developed by Strabane Community Safety Partnership (CSP).
Funding from the confiscation of criminal assets will enable Strabane CSP to develop Cage Soccer further and for the project to be rolled out to Antrim, Ballymoney, Cookstown, Derry, Omagh and Limavady.
"Organised criminals are in the business of making as much money as possible without sparing a thought for who they harm along the way," said Mr Ford.
"The recovery of criminal assets hits them where it hurts - in their pockets.
"Recovering criminal assets is an important focus of the Organised Crime Task Force's work and to reinvest those ill-gotten gains back into the community helps tackle crime and the fear of crime."
Mr Ford explained that prior to the devolution of justice powers the Home Office retained half of all criminal assets.
The minister said that money will now go to Northern Ireland.
The other 50% will continue to be distributed to agencies responsible for the recovery of the assets, he said.
"I have lobbied to ensure this extra money remains in Northern Ireland and is targeted at preventing crime and the fear of crime," said Mr Ford.
"Obviously it is difficult to predict the level of funding that will be available in the future given changes year to year of assets recovered, but I am optimistic that there will be a general increase in funding in coming years."
The minister said a range of projects will benefit, including programmes to reduce anti-social behaviour, support for older people and victims of domestic violence as well as initiatives to prevent rural crime and to educate young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.