EVIL IN OUR MIDST

26 January 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Despite some significant recent successes by the Gardai and the Customs and Excise authorities in striking at its means of production, it is clear that the manufacture, distribution and sale of illegally laundered fuel products remains a thriving organised criminal enterprise across the Border region in general, and in Co Monaghan in particular.
While the breadth of its web extends nationwide, the threads of this pernicious illicit activity are largely spun from the region of which the circulation area of this newspaper is part, and the manifold ills of its perpetuation are deeply relevant to, and should be of great concern, to our entire readership.
That such concern exists and is particularly heightened at the present time was discernible from the tone and content of the debate on the matter at the recent meeting of the county’s Joint Policing Committee, at which public representatives from every electoral area in the county spoke out strongly against the harm the illegal fuel trade is visiting upon both our environment and our economy.
Environmentally, the potential for damage is catastrophic – the toxic by-products generated in the laundering process could, as Colr Seamus Treanor highlighted, result in deleterious consequences for water sources in this county with a toll that would take generations to remit.
At a time when the consciousness of the cost and finiteness of this most precious of natural resources is heightened in the public mind, the threat posed by the irresponsible discarding of laundering waste by those who profit handsomely from illegal fuel production is one that cannot be taken lightly.
The expense incurred by Monaghan Co Council and other local authorities that have to deal with the material when it is located is considerable, and represents a burden on the already severely strained resources of local government administration that ultimately adds to the punitive effects that this crime has on the commercial ratepayer.
This sometimes undervalued consideration accentuates the economic harm that is done by the illegal fuel trade to legitimate producers and distributors in the sector, who rightly look to the agencies of enforcement and the legislative and judicial spheres for address of what has now developed for many into an intolerable state of affairs.
It was the feeling of some of the contributors to the JPC debate that the resources available to the law enforcement agencies are inadequate to meet the task they are confronted with – and that the penalties instituted by legislation and available to the courts are inadequate to register sufficient deterrent force when the guilty parties are made amenable to the law.
While it has become an assumption general to the public perception of crime that insufficient manpower resources are at the disposal of the Gardai and other relevant agencies, the statistics periodically debated by Joint Policing Committees would infer that this is not always an accurate interpretation.
The degree of success enjoyed in recent times in detecting and rendering inoperable illegal fuel laundering plants suggests that the law enforcement authorities are able to respond effectively when the necessary intelligence is at their disposal.
Like the preparatory stages of the organised trade in illegal drugs, the production of illicit diesel does not take place in the light, and before action can be taken a meticulous detection process is required that one presumes is dependent in large measure on public vigilance and co-operation.
It is also our considered editorial view that the courts have responded with appropriate rigor of sentencing when cases concerning illegal fuel crimes have been brought before them – indeed, Judge John O’Hagan at the Circuit Criminal Court in Monaghan in recent times adopted a sentencing approach with a developed restorative justice element that merited becoming the model of approach for the determination of penalty in cases of this nature.
The contrary opinion as to the effectiveness of the courts may derive from the fact that it can take some time for the compilation of a prosecution against those charged with such offences, with considerable technical evidence often required should such matters be contested.
Also it is very often the minnows rather than the big fish that are netted when a raid on a laundering plant is mounted – the more moderate sentencing tariff exercised by the courts against the minor players in this activity might suggest erroneously that there is no judicial willingness or legislative force available to register the public opprobrium with such offending.
But how profound is that opprobrium?
There would not be such a copious supply of illegal fuel if there were not a concomitant market for it – and the trade has become so lucrative as to suggest an uncomfortable disconnect between our public words of condemnation and our private tacit or active facilitation.
Current economic difficulties can make it easy to excuse concession to the temptation to purchase or retail such a product – but anyone who knowingly does so must be living in a bubble if they claim ignorance of the environmental and economic harms they are helping to perpetuate.
It would appear timely for the appropriate authorities to intensify their recent clampdown against the commercial fuel outlets across the country selling illegal products to the public, and against those who knowingly utilise such fuel for domestic or commercial transport purposes.
But we have surely reached the stage when the objectionable nature of this criminal enterprise has been made so well known that there is no longer any space for ambiguity in the public conscience.
We are all aware that the illicit fuel trade is an evil in our midst – we should not be allowing it to flourish through the support of our pockets, and we should be assisting the Gardai and the Customs authorities with our suspicions and our knowledge in order to ensure that it is stamped out, and that those who are profiting from it are put out of business and subjected to restorative justice.

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