The Joint Agency Task Force was one of the important commitments under the 'Fresh Start' Agreement to tackle cross-border organised crime, including that linked to paramilitarism. The Joint Agency Task Force is led by the police and revenue services and brings together the relevant law enforcement agencies to better co-ordinate strategic and operational actions against cross-border organised crime.
The Task Force involves senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC); it also includes the Criminal Assets Bureau and UK National Crime Agency as well as other interested law enforcement services (such as environmental protection agencies and immigration services).
The Joint Agency Task Force has been operational and active since the start of this year. The six priority areas for the Joint Agency Task Force include rural crime, child sexual exploitation, financial crime, illicit drugs, excise fraud and human trafficking.
I received the first six-monthly report on its work at my meeting with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, Claire Sugden MLA on 4 July. The report illustrates the positive and proactive approach that the Joint Agency Task Force has taken over its first six months and is available on my Department's website.
I am further assured that at an operational level the partner agencies are working on delivering results across the priority areas.
I am also informed by Revenue, who have primary responsibility for tackling fuel and tobacco fraud in this jurisdiction, that action against excise fraud is being supported and reinforced by the establishment of the Joint Agency Task Force. In this regard, there has been ongoing collaboration during 2016 between the partner agencies including, for example, a recent successful joint investigation which culminated in the seizure of large quantities of product on both sides of the border and arrests made. This matter remains under investigation at this time.
I am satisfied that ongoing collaboration between the partner agencies in the Joint Agency Task Force will support ongoing and effective actions to tackle all forms of cross-border crime, including tobacco and fuel fraud.