Crackdown vowed on waste crime
More must be done to tackle gangs involved in environmental crime, a new report has found.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) should take a more rigorous approach and robustly enforce legislation to deal with offenders profiting from poor regulation, inspectors have said.
James Corrigan, deputy chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland said: "Significant organised waste crime has been found to exist in Northern Ireland with criminals, illegal and unscrupulous operators making significant profits from waste crime and illegal waste disposal.
"These activities mean legitimate businesses cannot compete as their costs are undercut by criminals who do not see enforcement action as a deterrent."
The Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) was called in last year after concerns were raised about the operation, processes and investigation practices of NIEA's dedicated environmental crime unit (ECU).
Mr Corrigan added: " This review found the work undertaken by staff within the ECU is contributing to securing convictions and the confiscation of money linked to waste crime.
"This type of activity is positive but it must be supported by strong regulation and enforcement. Criminals and illegal operators must be in no doubt that compliance with the law is the priority of the ECU and a key objective of NIEA and the Department of Environment (DoE) in tackling waste and other environmental crime."
Environmental crime includes the dumping of toxic by-products from fuel laundering, fly tipping and the burning of tyres on bonfires.
Waste disposal is also subject to stringent regulation and often involves substantial costs which creates a market for the illegal operators to offer lower prices.
The ECU was established in 2008 and has an annual budget of £1.7 million.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan who commissioned the review, said his department intended to "get tough" on offenders.
He said: "The impact of environmental crime on daily life here should not be underestimated, it is not a victimless crime. It threatens our world-class surroundings, our quality of life and our economy.
"We already have a business plan in place to build strong partnerships with other law enforcement agencies to get tougher on those who damage our environment and heritage."
Green Party leader Steven Agnew has also welcomed the CJI findings.
He said: "From illegal fly tipping to illegal dumping, it is of great concern that organised crime can profit due to poor regulation.
"Waste crime impacts on many levels. It affects wildlife, pollutes the air we breathe and the water we drink.
"As financial constraints continue to affect our lives, it is important that waste crime is stopped, rather than spending millions on cleaning up the mess."