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Martin McGuinness supports new cross-border task force that he says will relentlessly tackle the 'scourge of criminality'

By Noel McAdam

Published 22/12/2015

Martin McGuinness at the meeting to set up the new cross-border crime squad
Martin McGuinness at the meeting to set up the new cross-border crime squad

Martin McGuinness has pledged a new cross-border crime task force will be "relentless" in its pursuit of paramilitaries.

The Deputy First Minister and First Minister Peter Robinson travelled to Dublin yesterday to launch the new north/south team, which formed part of last month's Fresh Start deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein along with the British and Irish Governments.

With an initial budget of around £50m, the joint new force - which will have its first meeting next month - is designed to tackle violence and intimidation, large-scale smuggling operations, fuel-laundering, drug-dealing and extortion.

In one of his last acts as First Minister, Mr Robinson said it was an "important milestone" involving new justice structures.

And Mr McGuinness added: "Criminality is a scourge on our communities, north and south, and we must be both united and relentless in our pursuit of these criminals.

"This joint agency task force provides renewed energy, focus and additional mechanisms for us to work collectively for the greater good of people across the island of Ireland."

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said the initiative would further deepen North-South co-operation building on the already strong co-operation between the Garda Síochána, the PSNI, the Revenue Commissioners, HM Revenue and Customs and the Criminal Assets Bureau as well as the UK's National Crime Agency.

He has already added that given the growing problem of illegal waste, an environmental protection dimension could also be included in the remit of the taskforce.

"This is an unmissable opportunity to free communities from the toxic grip of ruthless criminals," Mr Flanagan added.

Justice Minister David Ford, along with his Dublin counterpart Frances Fitzgerald and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, also attended the meeting.

Mr Flanagan said he and Ms Villiers shared deep disappointment that so-called legacy issues from the 'Troubles' were not resolved in the 12-week negotiations.

But he added finding a solution remains of "paramount importance".

UUP MP Tom Elliott has said the Joint Agency Task Force must demonstrate a determination to finally rid society of paramilitaries and their crime rings.

He said: "Representing a border constituency I was keen to see a renewed and intensified focus on tackling cross-border crime such as fuel laundering and cigarette smuggling.

"The key thing we now need to see is results. There will be high expectations for the Joint Agency Task Force, particularly from communities living in border areas.

"The public need to see that there is a determination to finally rid our society of paramilitaries and their crime rings."

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