NI Environment Minister calls for full-time waste crime task force

NI Environment Minister calls for full-time waste crime task force Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has called for a ‘significant gear change’ in how environmental crime is tackled in the country, endorsing a recommendation from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the establishment of a ‘permanent, full-time multidisciplinary task force’ that will clamp down on illicit waste operations.

In particular, Durkan says, work must be done to protect border regions like Newry and Mourne and South Armagh, which are “plagued with the dumping of fuel-laundered waste”.

Criminals ‘robbing economies of vast sums of money’

Elaborating on his call for greater enforcement, Durkan said: “Much significant work has already been done in cooperation with the Dublin government to tackle the scourge of waste crime. We have worked on a North-South basis to clean up illegal landfill sites in border regions and on joint enforcement actions.

“While all this work is very positive, we need to step up a gear to work jointly and effectively on a cross-border and indeed on an east-west basis, to tackle the infiltration of organised crime in the waste industry and to deal with the scourge of fuel laundering.

“This is not low level, victimless crime. In my view it is one of the greatest threats to our environment and to both human and animal health through potential contamination of our water supplies and local rivers.

“Without strong coordinated North-South action, criminals will continue to rob our economies of vast sums of money though the sale of illegal fuel and to poison and pollute our environment and people.

“I support the call of the British-Irish Parliamentary [Assembly] for more determined action north and south of the border to eliminate the activities of organised crime gangs involved with cross-border illicit trade, including the establishment of a permanent, full-time multidisciplinary task force.”

Calls add to previous criticism of lax enforcement

The call adds to recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) in May that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) enhance its enforcement and regulation activity to develop a more ‘rigorous’ approach to dealing with waste crime offenders.

An independent CJI review of the NIEA’s Environmental Crime Unit found that there was an ‘absence of a clear strategic assessment of waste crime in the NIEA’, which could ‘impede the overall effectiveness of the management of waste crime’.

Durkan himself pledged in 2013 to bring about a ‘fundamental change’ in how waste crime was managed in the country after a report by former Welsh Environment Agency Director Chris Mills into illegal dumping in Northern Ireland.

The report highlighted that the punishment for illegal waste activities did not ‘fit the crime’, making the waste industry ‘extremely attractive and vulnerable to criminals who can make vast profits with relatively little risk’.

It followed the 2013 case of an illegal site in Mobuoy, near Derry, where 516,000 tonnes of waste was found buried in sand and gravel pits by the NIEA in an area adjacent to the River Faughan.

According to the report, a number of complaints were received by the NIEA regarding the running of the site, as early as 2008, but they were not fully investigated at the time.

Following an investigation, the licence of the site, which had been excavated by Campsie Sand & Gravel Ltd, was revoked by then Environment Minister Alex Atwood, who then commissioned the report.

Read the CJI’s ‘Review of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Environmental Crime Unit’.