Belfast Telegraph

UUP calls to stop separating paramilitary prisoners

MLA says practice gives crime gangs credibility

The Ulster Unionist Party have called for an end to the separation of paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland.

MLA Doug Beattie called on the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to intervene as members of criminal gangs were enjoying undeserved status and credibility.

“It is absolutely clear the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF) is beginning to have an effect and bite," he said of the dedicated PSNI unit.

"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 (NCA) - 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."

He said an "inconsistency" remained about how these gangs were viewed and treated.

Mr Beattie welcomed efforts by the Department of Justice (DoJ) to inform elected representatives  the tag of paramilitary was often used by gangs as a cover for their crimes used to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

“Whilst I am supportive of such an approach I have to ask the DoJ what sort of message are they sending out when they continue to facilitate paramilitary structures in our prison system?"

He continued: “Most loyalist paramilitary groups are quite clear that if anyone is caught involved in criminality using the cover of a paramilitary organisation, they do not represent them. All but a very few republican groups have to all intents and purposes abandoned their campaigns. I believe that the DoJ could start by making clear that there will be no new admissions under the separated prison regime."

At present anyone linked to a paramilitary group - if agreed by the Secretary of State - can be placed in a separate prison regime in Maghaberry.

This means they are also know as Terrorist and Politically Motivated Prisoners (TPMO) once released to the charge of the Northern Ireland Probation Board (NIPB).

“This completely flies in the face of the message the DoJ want to get out that these people are simply criminals, and are not part of a special category of offender," said Mr Beattie.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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