Northern Ireland

Loyalist and republican gangs working together, says PSNI chief

Sally Cummings was seriously injured after shots were fired at her home in Coleraine in October.
Sally Cummings was seriously injured after shots were fired at her home in Coleraine in October. Sally Cummings was seriously injured after shots were fired at her home in Coleraine in October.

THE head of the PSNI Criminal Investigations Branch has said republican and loyalist gangs are 'doing business together', as profits now far outweigh allegiance.

Detective Chief Superintendent John McVea is the recently appointed head of the Criminal Investigations Branch that investigates a vast spectrum of offences, including overseeing the Paramilitary Crime Task Force (PCTF).

Speaking to The Irish News he said in some instances different paramilitary factions are working together for profit.

"Being used to that divide (loyalist and republican) you might think that that would follow into crime. It doesn't; that's where crime is crime, money is money, and profit is profit and they don't mind whoever they deal with."

The PCTF was set up as a result of the 2015 Fresh Start agreement and is due to apply for further funding this month to continue its work.

It is designed to target paramilitary criminality by the UVF and UDA and the republican INLA.

"We will not arrest our way out of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, it is an important element, to enforce where we can, but it's not the final solution" Mr McVea said.

"People get drawn into paramilitary groups, which quite often starts as being a victim of crime so it's also trying to get them the support they need."

Earlier this year the EncroChat network, which was used by criminal gangs who believed it to be encrypted, was hacked.

This led to hundreds of arrests, with guns and drugs seized across Europe.

There have been dozens of arrests in Northern Ireland as a result with outstanding warrants for suspects currently still at large, after information from the network was intercepted and decoded.

"The learning and understanding of criminality has been largely through the Enchro operation which did show the level of interaction from group to group in the UK and Ireland," he said.

"The motivation is to make money and they will do it with whoever will facilitate it.

"So yeah, it's surprising sometimes the links and certainly has raised an eyebrow," he added.

Mr McVea described the republican INLA as "a criminal gang" adding that it has shown "a willingness and desire to use lethal force".

"There have been a number of murders that have been linked to them (INLA), they're a very concerning group ... particularly in the north west.

"My main area of concern is around the extortion of drug dealers, the process of taxation for want of a better term, and the death sentence they bring upon those who can't pay is only to be condemned."

The Detective Chief Superintendent also said it appeared that that paramilitary and criminal gangs were sourcing new weapons through links with the drugs trade.

"If you consider OCGs, (Organised Crime Gangs) whether it is 20 kilos of cocaine and five Makarovs (handguns) as far as the risk to the operation, it's the same risk, same route and same methodology.

"As is borne out in the Dublin murders, which have largely been around drugs, the importation of drugs and the importation of firearms are very closely aligned.

"There is no doubt there is a firearms route associated with the drugs trade," he said.

In terms of loyalist paramilitaries Mr McVea said he remains concerned at the "control and influence" they have over communities through coercion.

He said this can often be done by illegal money lending.

"People whose sons or daughters have got into a drugs debt...to get out of that a parent will take on a money loan from people associated with those groupings and then that has that family in a hold.

"Coercion, exploitation just brings misery as they get charged an extortionate amount of interest brought around by the exploitation of their son or daughter.

"That approach of either exploiting, shooting or beating with sticks, it's barbaric and has no place in society."

Mr McVea admitted "it is difficult" to encourage communities to come forward with information.

"We do struggle to get outcomes for paramilitary style attacks and that is largely because the victim has got themselves in a position where they have become vulnerable."

Last month grandmother Sally Cummings was critically injured after shots were fired at her Coleraine home by the North Antrim UDA.

Mr McVea said: "The important long term fact is people need to look at the UDA in North Antrim and reject it .

"This is not the society we want to be in," he added.

"If you look at the UVF in its totality and then you look at the East Belfast UVF, is there a difference, is there some part of the organisation moving on and some part refusing to?

"Look at the South East Antrim UDA and where that's going with breakaways from the mainstream, so there's no doubt there's splits.

"My frustration is the momentum and the speed. We want it gone yesterday, we want it gone five years ago, we wish it was never there in the first place", he added.