Probe into huge illegal dump hit by crime agency impasse
A probe into a massive illegal dump has been hampered by a political row preventing the National Crime Agency operating in Northern Ireland, the Assembly has heard.
The clean-up bill for the illegal waste, which was buried in old sand and gravel excavation pits near Londonderry, cost the public purse £800,000.
And it was estimated that organised criminal gangs – for whom waste can be big business – had earned £50m from the dump.
More than half-a-million tonnes of material was buried without permission in and around a licensed recycling site close to the River Faughan at Campsie.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the scale of illegal dumping discovered was "like nothing we've ever seen before on this island or on these islands".
And yesterday his predecessor Alex Attwood told MLAs it appeared the NCA had no intelligence or information on the dump and asked Justice Minister David Ford what action he was taking.
Mr Ford said: "Waste crime is one of the significant issues of organised crime. Sadly, some of the follow-up work on and part of the investigations into that particular waste dump had to cease when NCA officers were unable to continue."
This was when the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) gave way last year to the NCA, to which Sinn Fein and the SDLP have objected, claiming it undermines the authority of the Policing Board.
Mr Ford added "that is one of the reasons why I want to see the NCA fully operational", and confirmed his discussions with the Stormont parties to resolve the stalemate were ongoing. The DUP's William Humphrey said the NCA could help tackle sex offenders, human trafficking, fuel laundering, tobacco smuggling, drugs and paedophile activity.
Mr Ford said: "I hope that we will be able to reach agreement on the basis of the significant mechanisms for answerability and accountability in Northern Ireland, which do not exist in other parts of the UK, so that we can get the benefit of the NCA in the fight against crime."
DUP MLA Paul Givan, chair of the justice committee, asked: "Is there any indication that organised crime gangs in the Republic of Ireland are seeking to exploit the weaknesses that now exist in this jurisdiction, particularly because of the inability to cover civil assets that criminal gangs are obviously living off?"
Mr Ford replied: "It is absolutely clear that we are losing out because of not having the NCA to deal with major issues such as environmental crime and civil recovery.
"However, I cannot give any specific information at my level on the question of cross-border activities that exploit the opportunities that are presented by the absence of civil recovery powers at this stage in Northern Ireland."
The Assembly has twice rejected extending the National Crime Agency to Norhern Ireland because of Sinn Fein and SDLP fears it would not be accountable to the Policing Board. But pressure is growing after a United Nations committee warned the failure to allow the NCA to operate here is leaving children vulnerable to organised crime. Justice Minister David Ford is chairing discussions between the parties.