Cut paramilitary status for crime gangs sent to jail insists Beattie
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie is calling on the government to end the system of separating paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland's jails when convictions relate to organised crime.
Mr Beattie said the current system was giving "status and credibility to paramilitary crime gangs".
Republican and loyalist prisoners are held separately from other inmates in Maghaberry jail. But the UUP MLA yesterday called on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to change the practice if the offence of which the inmate has been convicted is linked to organised crime gangs.
Mr Beattie said: "It is absolutely clear the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) is beginning to have an effect and bite.
"The high profile targeting of crime gangs linked to the UDA and the INLA, as well as vigilante groups linked to republican dissidents such as Action Against Drugs has been overt, proactive and relentless.
"The news that the National Crime Agency - as part of the PCTF - has for the first time seized a property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is welcome and a clear sign that there is a serious attempt to deal with these crime gangs."
However, the Upper Bann MLA said there was "an inconsistency" about how the gangs were treated and viewed.
He praised efforts by the Department of Justice to highlight that gangs were using the paramilitary tag to cover their criminal behaviour and fund a lavish lifestyle.
"Whilst I am supportive of such an approach I have to ask the department what sort of message are they sending out when they continue to facilitate paramilitary structures in our prison system?" he said.
"That needs to change and in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly, the Secretary of State should be making moves in conjunction with the department to do this."
Mr Beattie said that most loyalist paramilitary groups had stated that if anyone was caught involved in criminality using the cover of a paramilitary organisation, they didn't represent them.
All but a very few republican groups had abandoned their campaigns of violence, he stated. He urged the Department of Justice to announce that there would be "no new admissions under the separated prison regime".
Mr Beattie added: "I therefore call on the Secretary of State to stop the practice of placing prisoners into the separated regime if their crime is one that is linked to organised crime gangs, regardless if they are UDA, INLA or any other flavour of paramilitary. I also call on the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Northern Ireland Probation ervice to end the practice of referring to those within the justice system as 'terrorist and politically motivated prisoners'.
"They should instead refer to them in the exactly the same way they refer to any other individual who finds himself or herself within the justice system, having committed a crime."