By Andrew Smyth
The introductory purpose of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, outlined in a statement carried on the National Crime Agency (NCA) website on 27 September 2017, outlines their objective as follows;
“A multi-agency taskforce has been set up in Northern Ireland to protect communities by tackling all forms of criminality linked to paramilitarism. ”
” Officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue & Customs have come together to form the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce.”
The public face of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force is Bobby Singleton. Mr Singleton’s previous roles in the PSNI include acting as ‘eye candy’ for a PSNI recruitment drive, leading fellow officers to label him ‘Gorgeous Bob’.
The genesis of the Task Force lies in the Provisional IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan, carried out in Belfast in August 2015. This murder led to a PSNI assessment claiming IRA members had been involved in this murder, and that the terror gangs command structure remained in existence.
The IRA further flexed their muscles with the attempted murder of Scott McHugh in May 2016. The attack was timed to ensure that it happened after the polls closed for the Assembly elections, and thus would not impact Sinn Fein.
Despite this, virtually no Task Force resources have been directed towards shutting down the IRA structures or pursuing their associated crime networks. No searches have been carried out in an attempt to retrieve any of the illegal arms that the Government report of 2015 revealed remained under the control of the IRA.
No IRA memorabilia has been seized or premises showcasing same searched. This stands in stark contrast to a plethora of PSNI searches designed to obtain loyalist memorabilia, which is then placed on show by the Crime Task Force. This absurd policy, which collapsed under questioning by Kate Hoey MP and a campaign by the East Belfast Community Initiative, sought to portray the seizure of conflict related memorabilia as a ‘success’. This is despite the fact that possession of such material is not, in of itself, a criminal offence.
On 12 January, in an interview carried on Belfast Live, Chief Superintendent Bobby Singleton (who has come a long way from acting as a poster boy in PSNI recruitment campaigns) outline the Task Force’s ‘main targets’. He identified the following groups;
East Belfast UVF
West Belfast UDA
Nowhere on the PSNI’s priority list, let slip by Mr Singleton, was any of the most active republican crime gangs such as ONH, the New IRA or the CIRA. Instead a fig leaf of bi-partisan policing is provided by throwing in the INLA and AAD.
AAD is a small band of criminals, a convenient diversionary group, and the INLA is largely disbanded. What is left is a small bunch of petty criminals. Yet the PSNI, we are supposed to believe, view these groups as a greater threat that armed republican terrorists who have shot and maimed a wide range of people in recent times. Only last night, according to reports by UTV’s Sharon O’Neill, ONH (who recently declared a ‘ceasefire’) shot two people.
I the 2015-16 reporting year republicans carried out 13 punishment shootings. In the 2016-17 reporting year republicans carried out 25 punishment shootings. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe that a rag-tag bunch of criminals calling themselves AAD, and the remnants of the INLA, pose a bigger threat?
It is abundantly clear that the Paramilitary Crime Task Force has a disproportionate amount of resources designed to target the loyalist community. It is clear that the main consideration is not the pursuit of crime, which everyone would welcome, but rather using their resources as a stick to beat those within loyalism that others have deemed not to be ‘on message’. Therefore there is a clear political purpose behind the work of the Task Force.
Mr Singleton reveals they grade their targets by the level of threat posed. Since the PSNI have opened the door in relation to this matter, perhaps they can explain the exact assessment procedure used when grading their ‘top targets’?
Many people will find themselves extremely confused as to how the Task Force’s resources are being allocated, and indeed why the most prominent republican terror groups are being given a free hand to carry out almost weekly punishment shootings.
Confidence in policing is continuing to wane within loyalist communities, as the Task Force, who have come to genuinely believe they are some kind of crime fighting force in the image of Elliot Ness, continue to encamp themselves in loyalist communities.
The pursuit of crime is legitimate, and is to be welcomed. The partisan pursuit of those deemed not to be politically ‘on message’, is to be challenged.
Let us see the Crime Task Force stepping up their raids of republican clubs and museums, and pursuing the illegal arms that remain in the possession of the IRA.