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Dissidents are raking it in from pay-offs by crime gangs peddling heroin on our streets, MLA says

By Deborah McAleese

Published 01/03/2016

PSNI officers carrying out a drug raid last year
PSNI officers carrying out a drug raid last year
Evidence: Jonathan Craig

Dissident republican terror groups are lining their pockets with drug money from crime gangs involved in the killer heroin trade, it has been claimed.

Dealers are paying the terror groups "to turn a blind eye" to their operations and other criminal activity, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board has warned.

"There is growing evidence that these terrorists are making substantial amounts of money to fund their activities from crime gangs who are paying them off to allow them to operate in their areas," said Jonathan Craig, a DUP MLA.

"We need to dismantle these crime gangs to stop dangerous drugs like heroin getting onto our streets.

"But we also need to dismantle these gangs to stop the large flow of cash they are injecting into dissident terror groups to turn a blind eye to their dealings."

There have been a number of successful policing operations in recent weeks against the heroin trade.

Yesterday eight men and a woman aged between 22 and 52 were arrested as part of an operation against the supply of heroin in the Portadown area.

They remained in police custody yesterday for questioning on suspicion of supplying heroin and possession with intent to supply.

Searches were carried out at a number of properties in the Portadown area.

Detective Inspector Keith Gawley said: "This operation is yet another example of our determination to reduce the availability of this killer drug and I appeal to anyone who has any concerns or information about illegal drugs to contact their local police."

Last week police seized an estimated £4,000 worth of heroin as part of an investigation into the supply of drugs that led to two men being arrested near Hillsborough.

The packages of heroin recovered were the size of table tennis balls and wrapped in small plastic bags.

In the past four months officers in Belfast arrested almost 30 people suspected of dealing or using heroin in the city.

The nine people arrested in the Portadown area yesterday are suspected of being "key players" in the heroin supply chain, Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson claimed.

Ms Dobson added that the police operation "was the culmination of months of painstaking and co-ordinated work by various branches within the PSNI to combat the supply of heroin and other drugs across the district".

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly also welcomed yesterday's operation.

"The devastating effect of drug addiction on individuals and their families is absolutely heartbreaking," the MLA said.

"And it's critical that we get on top of the problem before it becomes a pandemic."

Local DUP councillor Carla Lockhart added: "I would commend the PSNI on this major operation.

"The supply and demand for drugs locally is all too prevalent and must be stamped out before it wrecks more lives and, particularly, the lives of our young people."

The PSNI recently estimated there could be up to 1,500 heroin users in Northern Ireland.

A combination of local criminal gangs and others led by foreign nationals are thought to be behind the supply of heroin into the province, police said earlier this month.

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