Ulster Unionist Party East Antrim MLA, Roy Beggs, has welcomed over 60 responses to his consultation on a Scrap Metal Dealers (NI) Bill.
The consultation closed on Saturday, alongside news that a spate of metal occurred over the weekend involving power cables, telephone cables and even a gas leak caused by the theft of copper gas pipes.
Mr Beggs said: “I’ve been extremely heartened by the volume of responses to my consultation on a Scrap Metal Dealers Bill for Northern Ireland, and I will be working hard to analyse the results over the coming weeks in order to bring swiftly about the introduction of a Bill to the Assembly floor, should the responses deem it necessary.
“From a preliminary overview of the results, it does appear that there is an overwhelming public feeling toward the need for legislation, and this is also supported by the PSNI, Transport NI and NIE.
“As the consultation closes, the need for legislation has once more been highlighted with the news that recently overhead power cables, telephone cables and even a gas piping have been stolen by criminals seeking to profit at the public’s expense.
“No concern has been shown for the gas leak left behind, nor of how the public will have been inconvenienced or put at risk as a result of the loss of power and the loss of telecoms and the emergency response network.
“To saw down wooden poles carrying live electricity cables is an extremely dangerous and foolish thing to do. It risks injury or worse to those who hope to steal the metal, those who are responsible for carrying out the repairs, or passing members of the public.
“When electricity and telecom cables are stolen, vulnerable citizens and struggling businesses can be further put at risk. I would urge members of the public who have seen anything suspicious regarding cable or metal thefts to report information to the police.
“I will continue to work alongside the relevant bodies, including scrap metal dealers, the PSNI and others to combat the problem of metal theft and I look forward to analysing the results of my consultation in order to bring about the most effective legislation.”
Mr Beggs received support from across the water in his campaign to make metal theft more difficult.
He was backed by Tony Glover, Director of Policy of the Energy Networks Association, and Ian Hetherington, Director General of the British Metals Recycling Association, who both took the time to come to Belfast to brief local MLAs on the issue.
Mr Beggs said: “The lesson from England is that it is possible to regulate scrap metal dealers and reduce crime without undue burdens on industry.
“The scrap metal industry is recognised by the Association of Chief Police Officers as being the principal market for stolen metal. The 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act in England has recently been up-dated to provide an audit trail of metal sales, yet no such legislation exists in Northern Ireland.
“With 1500 metal thefts occurring each year in NI, I believe that we need to change the law to help fight metal theft and so I have brought forward my Private Member Bill consultation for a Scrap Metal Dealers Bill (NI).
“Metal theft has resulted in considerable damage to property and significant replacement costs to constituents, businesses, voluntary groups and public bodies. I believe that a Scrap Metal Dealers Bill would be right for Northern Ireland and ask for the community to support my consultation so that I will be able to proceed to draft new legislation for Northern Ireland.”
Police have appealed for information after thieves cut down pylons and stole copper cabling at Coast Road, Glenarm, on Monday, January 20.
The PSNI believes that a small criminal gang is behind a spate of similar thefts.