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Justice Minister Claire Sugden to lift lid on crime and terror ties

By Noel McAdam

Justice Minister Claire Sugden is set to detail the links between organised crime and paramilitary groups.

A campaign designed to highlight the harm caused by paramilitary criminality is due to be unveiled next week.

The development is part of the Fresh Start Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein, which contained a new blueprint for tackling terror gangs.

But the Ulster Unionists said the plan "lacked urgency" and called on ministers to impose sanctions on those who refuse to "leave paramilitarism behind".

Ms Sugden insisted the campaign, which she intends to launch on Monday, would increase awareness and show how ordinary citizens can join the battle to defeat paramilitarism.

The PSNI has estimated there are 138 organised crime groups across the province, involved in a range of criminal activity which helps to fund paramilitaries, including drug dealing, sexual exploitation and fraud.

In a written Assembly answer, Ms Sugden said: "I believe the campaign will play an important part in our work to tackle paramilitary activity. The campaign aims to highlight the harm caused by organised crime and paramilitarism, raise awareness of types of organised crime and its links to paramilitarism, and encourage everyone to take a stand against organised crime and to provide information to the police or Crimestoppers."

The minister also revealed that she has commissioned questions in the regular Omnibus Survey to monitor attitudes towards organised crime and paramilitary activity, which will be used to monitor the impact of the campaign.

Funding has been allocated for a "scoping study" on a restorative justice centre of excellence along with the development of detailed programmes on promoting lawfulness and supporting prisoners upon their release.

"My department has also been working with Northern Ireland Office and the PSNI on research into paramilitary style assaults," Ms Sugden explained.

But Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: "Apart from the public awareness campaign, other work on tackling paramilitarism doesn't seem to amount to anything other than scoping exercises and research.

"The Executive's response to tackling paramilitarism lacks urgency.

"We are hearing on a daily basis of the grip paramilitaries still have on communities in Northern Ireland.

"When will those people wanting to live free of this suppression finally feel the benefit of the Executive's action plan?

"When the Executive published their action plan for tackling paramilitarism, they said they hoped that it would send a clear signal that they value the work communities do to move this issue forward.

"They could send the clearest signal possible by moving to put sanctions on those who refuse to leave behind criminality."

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Andrea McMullan recently told MLAs there was collaboration between loyalist and republican paramilitaries and foreign criminals.

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