New Garda-PSNI task force targets Provo smugglers
A new cross-border police and customs agency set up primarily to tackle Provo smuggling and racketeering, and all cross-border crime, has begun work.
The 'Joint Agency Task Force' has already carried out several operations, including one simultaneous raid on 14 targets over the downloading of indecent images of children.
The cross-border task force was set up in the wake of representations by the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly after the Sunday Independent revealed that Provo fuel smugglers were causing major environmental damage, including dumping toxic waste in the drinking water supplies in the border counties.
A proposal to set up the agency was passed by the inter-parliamentary body in March last year and accepted by both governments.
Last November, the Irish and British governments agreed measures under a programme called A Fresh Start for "a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross-jurisdictional crime".
A number of investigations on both sides of the border were co-ordinated, with the main opening operation against 14 targets on either side of the Border suspected of downloading child pornography.
Twenty-two homes and premises were raided and seven men were detained and questioned on either side of the border and are expected to come before the courts.
The agency carried out a series of operations in April, which was designated as a 'month of action' to tackle rural crime. This involved the deployment of 'targeted high-visibility operational resources on both sides of the Border, with 16 crossborder vehicle checkpoints taking place along the open land-border'.
In a joint statement from the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and her NI counterpart, Claire Sugden, they welcomed the establishment of the joint force, the first such agency to be set up since the foundation of the State.
The agency has already seized drugs, cash, vehicles and 'high-end' plant equipment and made three arrrests in relation to these seizures.
Two stolen mechanical diggers were recovered.
The new agency is also targeting human traffickers exploiting migrant workers who are forced into employment in agricultural businesses along the Border.
Previous investigations in Northern Ireland found that former loyalist and republican paramilitaries were involved in what is effectively slave labour of trafficked immigrants.
Welcoming the establishment of the crossborder task force, Tanaiste Ms Fitzgerald said it would "maintain a priority focus on tackling cross-border organised crime, including that linked to paramilitarism, given its insidious and corrosive impact on society".
Ms Sugden said she was committed "to maintain and strengthen relations between our jurisdictions, particularly in light of the outcome of the EU referendum.
"In that context, it is clear that there will be specific issues for justice to be worked through. It will be a priority for me to ensure that the excellent levels of co-operation continue."
The Inter-Parliamentary Assembly voted in favour of establishing the cross-border agency after a delegation of members visited the south Armagh area to see the operation of diesel 'washing' plants and examine the environmental damage being done by the dumping of thousands of tons of toxic waste into rivers and lakes in the area.
One of the locations they visited was a fuel-laundering plant operated by members of the south Armagh IRA which has been pumping waste, including cancer-causing hydro-carbon by-products from extracting dye from diesel, into the main drinking water supply of the Fane River system for two decades.
In February last year, the Sunday Independent retrieved a water sample from one of the toxic waste outlets and had it tested by a laboratory in Dublin, which found that the toxicity levels were up to 8,000 times above the EU standards for discharges into drinking water systems.
In March last year, Louth County Council passed a motion condemning the IRA's involvement in "environmental terrorism". An attempt by Sinn Fein to remove the reference to the IRA was defeated.