CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Minister Ford, Commissioner, Deputy Chief Constable, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I particularly welcome the fact that I am co-launching this Seminar with David Ford.
As you know, this is the first of these seminars to take place since policing and justice were devolved to the institutions in the North.
I want to pay tribute to David, and his team at the new Department of Justice here, for how smoothly and effectively that change has taken place.
I had known David long before his appointment, but since we spoke on the day he became Justice Minister, we have been working intensively together on our primary aim: keeping the people of this island safe from the activities of criminals.
Of course, that cooperation simply reflects the level of cooperation which has been taking place on the ground for many years between all of you.
This seminar is now in its eight year. Both Minister Ford and myself have said publicly that cooperation between law enforcement agencies in both our jurisdictions has never been higher. Anyone who thinks that is merely rhetoric should just look around here today.
This seminar gives me the welcome opportunity to thank each and every one of you for the work you do, often in very difficult circumstances, on behalf of the community.
Organised crime is a short-hand phrase that can cover a multitude. But we should not forget that what is at its heart is people coming together for criminal ends who aren't prepared to live by the rules and who will set at nought the rights of others.
We have seen the callous disregard for human life displayed by those involved in the drugs trade. We have the appalling spectacle in the 21st century of human traffickers condemning people to lives of slavery.
And let no-one think that some of the excise crimes that are being dealt with at the Seminar should not be regarded as serious, or are crimes which have no victims. Put simply, the activities of the people involved set out to undermine all we do as a society to provide for the common good. No one may be very happy with the taxes they have to pay, but crimes against the Exchequer are crimes against every law abiding tax payer.
We have the further complication on this island of the role of paramilitary organisations in organised crime. This has been highlighted time and again by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Put frankly, it is quite obvious that many of those involved in these organisations are clearly motivated by making a livelihood from crime. They are profiteers, not patriots.
I do not intend to dwell at this Seminar on the overall threat posed by so-called dissident republican organisations. But I do want to say this to those of you in this room who find yourselves under threat from these organisations: everyone here stands with you. And we will all play our full part - however long it takes, whatever it takes - in bringing that threat to an end.
As a Justice Minister I have particular responsibility for making sure that the agencies have the legal powers they need to take on organised crime gangs. In the last couple of years I have brought forward strong legislation dealing, among other things, with surveillance, and membership of criminal gangs. Earlier this year we enacted the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) legislation to deal with the problem of so-called 'headshops'.
I mention these pieces of legislation not just to illustrate how we must constantly adapt to the changing circumstances we confront. But I also want to assure you that we will listen carefully to what is said at this Seminar and if anything emerges which might be dealt with by improvements in legislation, then, of course, we'll pursue that.
Seminars such as this provide a unique opportunity, not just to make sure arrangements for cooperation are working at their best, but to learn from each other's experiences in dealing with common concerns. I know a lot of background work goes into organising it and I am sure you will all join me in thanking the organising committee for the work they put into this year's event.
Of its nature, there is no point in pretending we can paint a pretty picture about the state of organised crime. But as well as analysing the threats that exist, I hope you find some time in your deliberations to acknowledge some of the terrific successes you have had. And many of those successes have come about because of the high level of cooperation between your agencies.
You should be proud of what you have achieved and look forward to the successes you will undoubtedly have in the future.
I salute those successes and have no doubt all right thinking people North and South join with me in doing so.