Sunday 26 February 2017

EU joins crackdown on diesel laundering on border

John Downing

John Downing

The EU Environment Commissioner is to signal strong Brussels backing in the battle against €50m per year diesel-laundering rackets
The EU Environment Commissioner is to signal strong Brussels backing in the battle against €50m per year diesel-laundering rackets

The EU Environment Commissioner is to signal strong Brussels backing in the battle against €50m per year diesel-laundering rackets which are causing environmental havoc in border counties.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella is due in Dublin and Belfast tomorrow to meet both governments for discussions on the scourge of diesel laundering, and the dumping of poisonous residues, which is causing huge pollution along the border. The move follows strong statements on the issue by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan who challenged Sinn Féin to "tell more of what they know" about border fuel rackets.

Mr Vella, a native of Malta, is to meet Environment Minister Alan Kelly, and his counterpart in Belfast, Mark Durkan, of the SDLP.

Mr Vella's meetings will focus especially on cross-border cooperation.

In his letter, the Environment Commissioner expressed concerns about the risk to the environment and ultimately to human health. Officials close to the process say the possibility of Brussels funds for a cross-border crackdown can be explored.

Last month, Mr Hogan said it was plain that fuel smuggling and laundering was being carried out by criminals linked to so-called "dissident republicans". But, without specifically mentioning Sinn Féin, he raised questions about these dissidents' links to the political system, north and south.

"It is clear the criminal gangs involved in fuel rackets have breakaway paramilitaries among their members. Some of these are close to the political process and some of their windfall gains may be making their way into the political process," Mr Hogan said.

After a visit to the North, Mr Hogan said Belfast political sources estimated the fuel rackets were worth some Stg£38m (€50m) per year. Mr Hogan said the potential tragedy of this risk to Ireland's global food image was that it came at a time of unprecedented export opportunities for products from both sides of the border.

Damaging

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has welcomed the intervention by the EU Environment Commissioner.

"I will be meeting Commissioner Vella to discuss ways we can work together to tackle this as it's damaging both the environment and the economic potential of the border counties," Mr Kelly told the Irish Independent.

Sinn Fein could not be contacted for comment. But earlier this year party leader and Louth TD Gerry Adams condemned the practise.

Mr Hogan said Sinn Féin in government in the North should be more assertive in catching the people involved in these rackets.

"I think they should tell us what they know," he said.

Irish Independent

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