Huge cost of illegal fuel clean-up
Almost half a million pounds was spent in just one year cleaning up waste from fuel laundering in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.
The threat of organised crime behind much of the fraud has not reduced since the end of the conflict and the agency responsible for tackling it has been ineffective, said Environment Minister Alex Attwood.
He said the clean-up bill for his department was £467,000 in the last year. "That sort of figure is very difficult to sustain, given the budget of DoE," he added.
The senior SDLP figure said the Justice Department should help pay for the clean-up costs but focused particular attention on Revenue and Customs.
He said: "I expect them as the lead agency to tackle organised crime, and that is what they declare themselves to be, I am saying very clearly to them, 'you step in and you help with the clearance cost of fuel laundering'. That sort of figure demonstrates the scale of the problem."
A toxic sludge is produced in the laundering process to make no-duty paid fuel harder to detect when used on the road. The cost of removing it had been falling mainly to one particular council (Newry and Mourne) until 22 councils entered into a two-year contract with the DoE on fly tipping, meaning the Department covers the cost of clearing the toxic sludge.
Mr Attwood told the Assembly there had been an escalation in action by Government agencies north and south of the border but not enough prosecutions or people imprisoned. "The issue is big and we now have to respond in an even bigger way," he said.
The minister attacked the record of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
"If you were to look at its conduct over the last three to four years it is better known as the Silent Organised Crime Agency because it's got no profile, it's got no impact and people don't know what's coming or what's happening in respect to the threat of organised crime on this island," he claimed.
"In my view the threat of organised crime on this island, including the north, is no smaller than it was in the days of terror. That is not a very good statement to make about where things are on this island."