A MAJOR cross-border summit will be held in Armagh this week as all of the statutory agencies step up their efforts to tackle illegal fuel laundering across the county.
SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon – who will host the meeting on Wednesday – said all agencies would work together in a concerted drive to tackle this type of criminal activity, the laundering of illegal fuel and the dumping of toxic waste in local communities.
He explained: “The meeting will see the PSNI, An Garda Síochána, officials from the Department of Environment, north and south, Revenue and Customs, north and south, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Forest Service, Roads Service, Monaghan County Council and Armagh City and District Council all come together and renew efforts to stamp out this hideous crime against our environment and our communities.
“We have seen those who exploit the existence of the land border in this island to fund their ill-gotten gains. Those responsible count their profits whilst we the communities count the cost of their crime. They creep in under the cover of darkness and dump their toxic waste down country lanes, at local beauty spots, in forests, and they block minor roads.
“I asked council officials to bring together all involved and have been astonished with the response of the stakeholders involved. Local communities are fed up with their areas being seen as some sort of dumping ground for these cowboys and are crying out for action. I hope this meeting will set out a very clear path on the actions being taken and we will see greater co-operation going forward.”
The dumping of toxic waste cubes has been an ongoing problem in recent times, particularly in areas of South Armagh. Derrynoose, Cullyhanna and Mountain Lodge outside Darkley have been the main targets for a crime that has been intensifying for the past few years.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment believes the community must co-operate with the agencies involved in order to prevent any further incidents of fuel laundering.
He said: “NIEA Environmental Crime Unit and waste regulatory staff will be attending the meeting and have been invited to it by Armagh Council.
“The damage to the environment caused by fuel laundering is not readily quantifiable, as the activity is criminal in nature, clandestine and therefore emissions are not able to be quantified in a way that they can be for a regulated industrial sector.
“This criminality can only be resolved if communities work with the agencies concerned to give information about those involved in both the laundering activities and those who organise the disposal of the waste and arrange for its disposal.
“NIEA and Crimestoppers are working in partnership in order to enable reports of the dumping/organising of the disposal of the waste from fuel laundering to be reported completely anonymously on 0800 555 111.
“Crimestoppers is an independant charity – it is not possible for a call or email to Crimestoppers to be traced and the phone number is operational 24 hours a day seven days a week. Callers are not asked for their name or any other information that could identify them. NIEA would encourage all those with information to use this facility to report it.”
The cost to clean up a single cube is approximately £400 to £500 and, on average, six cubes are dumped in each incident.
In one particular case, a forty foot lorry containing nine cubes of fuel waste was discovered at Ford’s Cross, Silverbridge in September last year.
The council have already spent “tens of thousands of pounds” in the clean-up operation according to Councillor O’Hanlon.
One of his main concerns is the length of time it takes before the toxic waste is removed. It is hoped one of the outcomes of the meeting is an improved working relationship between the involved agencies in order to deal with the persistent crime more efficiently.