She was speaking as The Northern Ireland Executive Programme to Tackle Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime launched its latest ‘Ending the Harm’ public awareness campaign, which will focus on how paramilitary gangs use illegal money lending as a means to control and exploit vulnerable people.
The campaign launches by telling the story of how a young single mother’s situation deteriorates rapidly once she borrows money from an illegal lender.
The campaign includes a TV ad which will go live after 9pm tonight (Monday 14 June), a poster that will run across a selection of outdoor advertising sites from today and a radio advert that will go live tomorrow (Tuesday 15 June).
The call to action is to visit the campaign website: www.endingtheharm.com (which goes live at 9pm this evening), to get the full story. The website will have a number of sections including information on where people can go for help and support as well as some further real-life stories (that have been anonymised) and further rationale behind this campaign.
Speaking at today’s launch, Naomi Long, Justice Minister said:
“Illegal money lending is an under-reported crime, but one that is commonplace across communities in Northern Ireland and is a practice which is closely linked to paramilitary gangs. It is a crime that targets vulnerable people when they are at their most desperate. We know from research and evidence that this is yet another example of how paramilitaries and those linked to them try to coerce and control people and communities for their own gain.
“The coercion that comes with illegal money lending means that it is common for victims of this crime to feel that they have no-one to turn to. But support and help is available. Advice NI, the Independent Advice Network, runs a free and confidential, debt service offering practical advice and support to people dealing with debt of any description. Furthermore, I would encourage all victims of criminal behaviour like this to contact the police.”
“People have had to live with paramilitary control, violence, threats and exploitation for far too long. Life is hard enough without this. Families, communities and businesses are all desperate to return to normal after COVID-19 and the last thing they need is the negative influence of paramilitary gangs seeking to exert control, often for financial gain.
“The Executive Programme to address paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime aims to stop harm, both in the here and now and over the longer term. Through the Programme we will cut off paramilitary supply chains, whether that’s paramilitary drugs that ruin people’s lives, money-lending that leads to misery or the violence that leaves vulnerable kids shot and maimed in the street. There should never be any place for this and as a society, it’s so important we support the people who every day stop another generation being scarred in this way.”
Today’s online launch event included contributions from a number of organisations, including Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), Bob Stronge, Chief Executive of Advice NI and Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).