FUEL launderers are acting with free reign in South Armagh with no fear of being caught, Stormont heard today.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood made the claim as he revealed that criminals dumped toxic waste on the same South Armagh road ten times.
The SDLP MLA said the situation regarding the use of illegal fuel was “acute” and an escalation in the authorities’ response to the problem was required.
“I have a map, for example, in my department where we have identified those parts of the north, in particular in south Armagh, where there has been multiple occasions where fuel sludge has been abandoned in essentially the same place, for that then to be collected by the relevant authorities,” he said.
“There is a road in Northern Ireland where sludge has been dumped following fuel laundering on ten separate occasions, at about the same location.
“It brings home in stark terms what the scale of the problem is and the confidence of organised crime that it can dump this sludge in the same place with confidence and, if you like, impunity.”
According to a recent HMRC report, estimated sales of illegal diesel have risen from 12 per cent of all diesel sold to 25 per cent.
Estimates from the organisation suggest the UK government lost about £70 million in revenue last year, considerably less than the estimates of about £250 million in 2006.
In January it was revealed that no person has been jailed for fuel smuggling in Northern Ireland in the last decade.
Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy has been an outspoken critic of the perceived lack of action taken against the illegal activity and insists the situation is now worse than an “epidemic”.
“It is inescapable to me that monies generated as a result of this black economy ultimately will find their way back to republican paramilitaries,” said Mr Kennedy, Minister for Regional Development.
A major cross-border summit will be held in Armagh this week as all of the statutory agencies step up their efforts to tackle illegal fuel laundering across the county.
Crossmore Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon – who will host the meeting on Wednesday – said all agencies would work together in a concerted drive to tackle this type of criminal activity, the laundering of illegal fuel and the dumping of toxic waste in local communities.
He explained: “The meeting will see the PSNI, An Garda Síochána, officials from the Department of Environment, north and south, Revenue and Customs, north and south, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Forest Service, Roads Service, Monaghan County Council and Armagh City and District Council all come together and renew efforts to stamp out this hideous crime against our environment and our communities.”
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