Call for action over Olympic touts
Northern Ireland could become a haven for organised criminals touting Olympic tickets if its laws are not brought into line with the rest of the UK, MLAs have been warned.
The UK Government has urged Stormont to follow measures in Great Britain and increase the maximum penalty for touting the sought after London 2012 tickets from £5,000 to £20,000.
Senior officials told the Assembly's Justice Committee that the Metropolitan Police in London had evidence that organised crime gangs were "lining up" to get involved in the illegal and highly lucrative black market trade ahead of the Games.
Gareth Johnston, from Stormont's Department of Justice, said the authorities across the water had fears that criminals would move to Northern Ireland to do business if the penalties for getting caught were not as severe.
"The concern is if the level (of fine) in Northern Ireland was lower it could encourage criminals to ticket tout in Northern Ireland, with criminals coming across from England, Wales and Scotland to tout them here," he said.
He said the department proposed to incorporate Northern Ireland into wider UK-wide legislation to raise the penalty, through a Legislative Consent Motion, rather than pushing separate laws through the Assembly. But the warnings he relayed from London provoked a sceptical response from around the committee table.
The DUP's Jim Wells claimed the internet age rendered the legislation useless as someone looking for tickets could go on a foreign website and buy black market tickets legally.
"There's nothing to stop me logging onto a website in Russia or Germany or the States and I could buy any number of tickets totally legally because they are not covered by this legislation," he said.
Raymond McCartney said if the law was changed in the region a tout could simply drive to Donegal and set up business. And the SDLP's Colm Eastwood said he had no objections in principle to the proposals but suggested a wider approach should be adopted so action was taken against touting for any event, not just the Olympics.
"If you are going to deal with this issue it needs to be dealt with properly and across the board," he said.