Hundreds of jobs will be put at risk if MLAs move to ban instant cash sales at scrap metal dealers, the Assembly has been warned.
The British Metals Recycling Association, which has 12 recycling sites in Northern Ireland and employs 1,000 people, said efforts to tackle the sale of stolen scrap metal were counter-productive.
Director general Ian Heatherington warned some of the 40 businesses here would go under if the idea was approved, and said people would simply take their scrap over the border.
He told MLAs scrap firms in the border areas would “disappear” and added: “That would happen because people seek cash for their scrap. These people will seek out sources of cash to sell their scrap to. These people will seek to receive cash, and they will be able to do so south of the border.”
But UUP MLA Roy Beggs, who is bringing a Private Member’s Bill on the issue, said: “For years criminals have been able to prosper anonymously by selling stolen metal for cash.
“If there is a low risk of being detected and an ability to make significant amounts of money, criminals will be drawn into this area of crime. This was true of scrap metal theft, particularly when prices peaked around 2011-12.”
He cited thefts in his East Antrim constituency, including underground cabling for street lights, and from schools, churches and a power substation.
Assembly environment committee chair Anna Lo asked: “Should we sit on our hands? Nobody will do anything, and in the meantime we hear from the police, the water services and more that properties are being damaged. The churches are losing lots of money as well.”
A PSNI report concluded there were 552 offences relating to metal theft here in the past year.
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