The Blanket

Addressing Organised Crime

Billy Mitchell

The nature and extent of organised crime in Northern Ireland is a source of concern for all who desire to live in a society that is characterised by peace, justice and economic security.

Organised crime impacts heavily on the quality of life of individuals, families and whole communities. It undermines the tireless and selfless work of community activists and residents’ associations. It has a damaging effect on the local economy and frustrates community endeavours to combat poverty and social exclusion. It also excuses government agencies for doing nothing to effectively address poverty and social exclusion. Clearly it is something that we can well do without.

The idea that the proceeds of crime come off a broad back is a falsehood that must be exposed and opposed. The cost of organised crime is something that the government and the business community do not absorb by themselves. It is met by all of us. Essential finances that should be channelled into developing more effective and efficient public services are re-directed towards crime prevention, crime detection, legal proceedings and compensation. Every pound that ends up in the coffers of the criminal is one less pound circulating through the local economy. It is one less pound that the business community can reinvest in local business. It is one less pound that employers can use to create new jobs and increase wages. But it is not just a pound here and a pound there - the cost of organised crime amounts to millions of pounds here and millions of pounds there. Organised crime is not simply an attack on the business community or the government, it is an attack on the whole community. It is as damaging to the people of Northern Ireland as the violence of the bloody conflict from which we are trying to emerge, and it deserves the same response.

An interim report published some time ago by the Special Task Force set up under Peter Mandleson to tackle organised crime estimates that some 400 criminals organised into approximately 78 gangs and responsible for the vast majority of organised crime in Northern Ireland. 78 gangs with an average membership of between 5 and 6 criminals should not pose a massive problem for the security forces. The greater the number of small gangs competing for the same profits means that there is greater fragmentation and, since the motive is personal gain as opposed to political ideology, there is more inter-personal and inter-gang competition and less group loyalty.

When one considers that paramilitary organisations had thousands of members organised in fewer groups and bound together by both ideology and group loyalty - not to mention life-threatening codes of discipline - the task of dealing with criminal gangs should not pose a great problem. If the resources and the tactics that were used against paramilitary organisations were deployed against the criminal gangs, the problem should be easily eradicated. One wonders why this has not happened before now.

The report repeats the allegation that both loyalist and republican paramilitaries are involved at some level in organised crime. Of the 78 gangs identified by the report it is said that 43 have paramilitary links and 35 have no paramilitary links. The paramilitary links are said to be through current and former members. One wonders how an organisation can be held accountable for the activities of former members. But even if all 43 gangs that are said to have paramilitary links do have such links, the number of individuals concerned amounts to approximately 258 people. That is not a significant number compared to the thousands of members and past members that paramilitary organisations can call upon in times of trouble. It is, of course, almost three hundred too many and there is a case to be made for asking paramilitary organisations to identify and expel any of their members who are found to be involved in organised crime. No one, even within paramilitary groups, will deny that some members of paramilitary organisations have been, and still are, involved in such activities. That would be to fly in the face of reality. However we must distinguish between those members of organisations who engage in such activities and the vast majority of members who do not, and who are opposed to such activities. That distinction is based on reality and I make no apologies for highlighting it.

Political ideology and organised crime are incompatible. There can be no political motive for poisoning the children of our country with drugs or for forcing them to steal to pay for the habit that the ‘trade’ helped them to develop. There can be no political motive for undermining the local economy upon which the community depends for its quality of life. There can be no political motive for bleeding local shopkeepers or publicans of their hard-earned money until they feel that it is not worth the bother carrying on. There can be no political motive for putting personal selfish greed above the social, economic and cultural well-being of the community.

Love of ones country, whether it be expressed through Irish patriotism or Ulster Loyalism, is wholly incompatible with organised crime. Organised crime contravenes the cherished principles of civil liberty, it is incompatible with the principles of equal citizenship and it violates the golden rule that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The social and economic well-being of the people of Northern Ireland is as important to me as the maintenance of the union with Great Britain. That Union would be meaningless without the people who make up that Union. Anything that militates against the ability of politicians and civic society to watch over, promote and protect the morale and the welfare the people of Northern Ireland is subversive of the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland and those who subvert the welfare of the people are the enemies of the people and ought to be regarded as the enemies of all true political activists.

The paramilitaries are an integral part of their communities and they, together with their political representatives, can help to empower their communities by actively and publicly supporting community leaders in gathering and presenting qualitative evidence against criminals that will stand up to scrutiny. They can also help by openly supporting non-violent community pickets against known drug and vice dens. This can only happen when the practice of scapegoating the paramilitaries ceases and when the fact that the majority of paramilitary members are not involved in drugs, vice and racketeering is openly validated.

There appears to be a willingness on the part of the police to tackle those aspects of organised crime that hurt the business community but a clear lack of interest in addressing organised crime where it impacts adversely on working class communities. It seems to be a okay for criminals to poison the lives of working class kids with drugs but not okay to engage in activities that hurt the business community. It also seems okay for the army of touts employed by the intelligence services to be given the freedom to engage in criminal activity so long as it is perpetrated against those living in marginalised communities. One could be forgiven for believing that organised crime, particularly the illegal drugs trade, is being deliberately used to destabilise certain working class communities and impose an insidious form of social control on those who, if empowered socially and politically, might dare to engage in class politics.

Criminal activity is wrong irrespective of who carries it out and of whom it hurts and organised crime is a community problem and must be addressed at community level. This means that local communities must be empowered to identify, isolate and bring to justice those who are responsible for the evil in their midst. The lawful authorities must be there to support the community and to show conclusively that the rule of law does in fact work. At the moment that is a highly debatable question.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives





It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

3 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Addressing Organised Crime
Billy Mitchell


Leading You Back To The Start
Anthony McIntyre



Carrie Twomey


Review: A Secret History of the IRA
Deaglan O Donghaile


Review: Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of Conflict in Northern Ireland
Buffy Maguire


Yes, Palestine Is Still The Issue
Aine Fox


Support & Solidarity
Davy Carlin


31 October 2002


The Real IRA
Eamonn McCann


A Stick To Be Beaten With
Anthony McIntyre


A Modest Proposal

Tommy Gorman


Minimum Wage or the Abolition of Wage Labour?
Liam O Ruairc




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices