Taxpayer foots £1m bill for fuel laundering clear-up
More than £1m has been spent cleaning up the mess left by fuel laundering, it has been revealed.
Over 3,000 tonnes of fly-tipped waste was removed in less than four years.
The figures were obtained by UUP MLA Robin Swann after he wrote to the Agriculture Minister, Michelle McIlveen.
The North Antrim representative urged the Executive "to take its gloves off" and get tough on those involved in fuel crime.
Ms McIlveen revealed that £1,118,614 was spent on clean-up operations for 3,141 tonnes of fly-tipped fuel waste between June 2012 and April 2016.
The figures emerged days after Justice Minister Claire Sugden announced that only one out of 56 convictions over the past five years resulted in a custodial sentence.
Mr Swann was adamant tougher action was needed on fuel laundering.
"The Stormont Executive cannot afford to pussy-foot around with these criminals, otherwise our countryside will become nothing more than a convenient dumping ground for these crooks," he said.
"The Executive needs to adopt a 'gloves off' approach to this type of serious crime.
"This is almost £1.12m which could have been used more constructively within the farming community.
"The countryside and the environment are literally paying a very heavy price for not adopting a zero tolerance approach to fuel laundering."
Earlier this week, TUV leader Jim Allister accused authorities of turning a "blind eye" to fuel fraudsters because of their ties to paramilitary groups.
He pointed to statistics released by the Justice Minister on fuel laundering cases.
Since 2011 there have been 56 convictions - but only one has resulted in a custodial sentence.
Mr Allister said it was well known that fuel laundering was a major source of income for paramilitary organisations,
"It has long been the suspicion of many that because of this nexus between proscribed organisations and the problem of fuel laundering, there has been a tendency on the part of the authorities to be unduly lenient or worse still, turn a blind eye to the problem," he added.
Mr Allister said that a crackdown on the crooks is well overdue.
"If a farmer, in his single-farm payment claim, gets something wrong about a field boundary, the satellites will catch him out," he added.
"But you can run riot with fuel laundering and no one sees, no one hears and no one is brought to meaningful justice.
"How many times have we heard of seizures and of nobody being there?"
Mr Allister called for a "stern, severe sentencing guidelines and a willingness to deal through deterrent sentences with those brought before the courts".
Fuel laundering waste is usually fly-tipped in mainly rural areas.
If the waste is not handled and disposed of properly, it can cause serious pollution to the environment, and pose a significant risk to human and animal health.