I propose to take Questions Nos. 277 and 278 together.
In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the agreement A Fresh Start, The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan, as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross jurisdictional crime.
These measures included the creation of the Joint Agency Task Force, which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and UK (HM) Revenue and Customs. A number of other relevant bodies, including the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau are also involved in operational activity where appropriate. The objective of the Task Force is to build on existing law enforcement frameworks and to increase the collective effectiveness of operational law enforcement actions.
The Strategic Oversight Group of the Task Force is jointly chaired at senior management level by the two police services, to provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities. This group also includes senior personnel from relevant agencies. As a multi-agency coordination structure, the Task Force does not have a separate staffing complement or budget. Personnel from the participating agencies in both jurisdictions are assigned for specific operations and other capacities from the relevant agencies are deployed as required by operational demands.
The Task Force has made strong progress in tackling cross-border criminal activity across a range of crime areas. These include not just traditional smuggling activities, but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime.
The multi-agency nature of the Task Force is critical to its success. It is a strong example of the extensive North-South cooperation between the police, customs services and other law enforcement agencies involved in tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on both sides of the border. The Task Force complements both the ongoing formal and informal co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, as well as specific joint investigations which take place when individual crime incidents with a cross border dimension occur, such as the one underway into a recent horrific case of abduction and assault.
Last week, together with the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, senior officers from all the agencies and senior officials from Department of Justice Northern Ireland and my own Department, I attended the 17th Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan. This is an annual event, aimed at enhancing cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, particularly in relation to cross border organised criminality and related issues. Operational members of the Task Force came together at the conference, which provided an opportunity to consider in detail the necessary improvements and innovations, including international co-operation. While the work of the Task Force is reviewed as part of the annual cross border conference on organised crime, there is ongoing multiagency engagement in relation to operations to tackle cross border crime.