Brexit risks strengthening dissident republican groups and boosting organised crime, according to the first survey of links between terrorism and crime in the UK and Ireland.
The report highlights major discrepancies in Garda estimates on the number of organised crime groups in the country ranging from 25 to 620.
The report is titled The Crime-Terror Nexus in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It calls for greater information sharing and collaboration between security agencies in Ireland, the North, and Britain.
Authors Peter R Neumann and Rajan Basra said that organised crime in the UK and Ireland had become multifaceted and entrenched, while the threat from terrorism — jihadist, far-right or Northern Ireland-related –— will “preoccupy security agencies in both countries for years to come”.
The report said the most urgent area where action was needed on organised crime was in the North.
“With Brexit, and the prospect of ‘regulatory divergence’ between North and South, it is vitally important to avoid creating additional incentives for cross-border smuggling, which thrives wherever tariffs, taxes, and regulations inhibit the free exchange of goods,” said the report.
“Put simply, the ‘harder’ the border, the greater the payoffs for organised crime.”
The report said the reason that successive British governments had failed to “seal off” the border was not just because of its length (500km), the large number of crossings (275), or the absence of smart technology, but because they had to operate within “hostile territory”, where it said local communities were more willing to co-operate with the IRA than the British government.
“Given that practically all border communities voted against Brexit, and that many have retained their sympathies for the Republican movement, cross-border smuggling will, if anything, become more acceptable,” the report said.
“The main beneficiaries are yet again Republican paramilitaries which can mobilise the necessary networks, ‘muscle’, and political justifications [however shallow they may seem].
“In that sense, the consequences of Brexit risk strengthening dissident Republicans and boosting organised crime.”
The report called on the British government to set up an independent inquiry into the involvement of paramilitary groups in organised crime. It said estimates for the number of organised crime groups in Ireland were difficult to get.
It said that former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan told the Oireachtas Justice Committee in 2012 that there were 25 organised crime groups.
However, a year later, the Garda annual report put the number at 269, while the 2014 report increased it to 621.
“None of the annual reports provided any definition or criteria, or offered any explanation for what appeared to be an astonishing rise,” said the report.
In contrast, the British National Crime Agency estimates there are 5,800 organised crime groups with around 40,000 individuals. It puts the number in the North at 150. The report said street gangs complicate the picture but said that such gangs are integrated into drug supply chains of larger groups.
Crime Terror Nexus, which commissioned the report, is a project of Panta Rhei Research Ltd, which is funded by PMI IMPACT, a global grant initiative of Philip Morris International, the tobacco corporation.
Crime Terror Nexus said it was fully independent in implementing the project.
Peter R Neumann is Professor of King's College London and director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR).
Rajan Basra is a research fellow at the ICSR.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved