Inspectors call for improved enforcement and regulation of environmental crime
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has recommended the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) enhance its enforcement and regulation activity and develop a more rigorous approach to dealing with offenders involved in environmental crime in Northern Ireland.
The call was made by James Corrigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland following the publication today (21 May) of CJI's latest report which looked at the operation and work of the Agency's Environmental Crime Unit (ECU).
"CJI was invited to undertake an independent review of the ECU by the Department of the Environment after concerns were raised during the summer of 2014 about the operation of the unit, its processes and investigation practice," said Mr Corrigan.
"While CJI was satisfied the way the unit was operating did not pose any significant concerns, Inspectors have made a number of strategic and operational recommendations designed to strengthen the operation and performance of the unit and its ability to tackle waste crime.
"Environmental crime impacts on all of us. Significant organised waste crime has been found to exist in Northern Ireland with criminals, illegal and unscrupulous operators making significant profits from waste crime and illegal waste disposal," said the Deputy Chief Inspector.
"These activities mean legitimate businesses cannot compete as their costs are undercut by criminals who do not see enforcement action as a deterrent.
"This review found the work undertaken by staff within the ECU is contributing to securing convictions and the confiscation of money linked to waste crime.
"This type of activity is positive but it must be supported by strong regulation and enforcement. Criminals and illegal operators must be in no doubt that compliance with the law is the priority of the ECU and a key objective of NIEA and the DoE in tackling waste and other environmental crime," he said.
Mr Corrigan indicated the review built upon the findings of previous inspections carried out by CJI in 2007 and in 2011 and supported the development of greater partnership working between the licencing and enforcement branches within the Environment Agency.
"Strong partnerships across the DoE and its executive agencies and with other law enforcement bodies through the Organised Crime Task Force are critical to the success of future enforcement action.
"While Inspectors accept that enforcement is costly, doing the same or even less is not a viable option for the DoE, as ineffective enforcement will impose enormous liabilities in the form of clean up operations, EU sanctions and risks to public health," he concluded.