Ulster faces 'gangster state' threat - Empey

Northern Ireland needs to guard against becoming a gangster state, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey warned tonight.

Northern Ireland needs to guard against becoming a gangster state, Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey warned tonight.

At the launch of a new campaign by his party opposing any role in the future for ex-paramilitaries in the North’s police service, the former Stormont Economy Minister warned republican and loyalist terror groups were increasingly morphing into criminal gangs.

And he also told Young Unionists in Lisburn concern was mounting that a blind eye was being turned to republican and loyalist criminality.

“In May 2004, £1m (€1.5m) of goods was stolen from Makro. In October 2004 £2m (€3m) worth of cigarettes was stolen from a Belfast warehouse. In December 2004 £26.5m (€39m) was stolen from the Northern Bank,” the East Belfast MLA said.

“The police have down-scaled their efforts in finding those responsible.

“Paramilitaries are involved in drug dealing, armed robbery, prostitution, money laundering, benefit and tax fraud, racketeering and massive counterfeit operations.

“Turf wars and fights for control of estates have increased dramatically. The situation is getting out of hand and this summer proved to be one of most sectarian and paramilitary driven summers of recent years.”

Sir Reg said the British government was saying little on the subject and he also accused the Police Service of Northern Ireland being in defensive mode.

“We have an opportunity to lead the debate and set the agenda on this important issue,” the UUP leader told his party’s youth wing.

“A straw poll of friends and family, when asked what their number one fear was for Northern Ireland, said mob rule. As a friend who lives in England said ‘It’s getting like Corleone (the family in Mario Puzo’s Mafia novel the Godfather) over there’.”

The Ulster Unionist leader restated his party’s opposition to any move by the British government to allow ex-paramilitaries to serve in the police regardless of past convictions.

He warned: “The threat of expunging terrorist records to permit them to become police officers, civil servants and teachers all point to a high risk of corrupting society and hand ultimate control to the gangsters.

“Those with a paramilitary background have been provided with the opportunity to change by using exclusively peaceful and democratic means as a way of achieving their objectives.

“There is no excuse, no justification for society allowing itself to be further corrupted.

“This is an issue where we all have to make a stand in the defence of democracy otherwise the enormous sacrifice of recent years will have been in vain.”

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said after a public meeting of the North’s Policing Board in Ballymena, Co Antrim he would oppose any moves to allow anyone with a criminal conviction to join the PSNI.

Policing Board chairman Sir Desmond Rea also said he shared some of his colleagues’ concerns about the reports that such a move was being considered.

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