East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has expressed concern at the number of cannabis farms discovered by police in the area over the last three years.
In 2011/12 , according to the DUP representative, 11 cannabis farms were discovered, nine of them in Newtownabbey and one in each of Larne and Carrickfergus.
Whilst none were found in Carrickfergus the following year, five were found in Larne and three in Newtownabbey and this year, to date, eight sites have been identified, two each in Carrickfergus and Larne and four in Newtownabbey.
Mr Wilson stated: “During the discovery of these cannabis factories 31 people have been arrested. Although in neighbouring Ballymena it has been found that Chinese gangsters have used trafficked humans to operate the cannabis farms, there has been no evidence that this is how they have been operated in the cannabis factories discovered in East Antrim.
“Whilst the police are to be congratulated on their success to date, nevertheless, given the human misery involved, if trafficked individuals are used to work these factories, it is important the police step up their efforts to close down these facilities.
“The money obtained from these helps to finance the many criminal gangs that operate across Northern Ireland, many of them associated with paramilitaries. The profits also give them even more reason to terrorise and to keep a stranglehold on the areas they operate, since that is one way which they can ensure silence and prevent the police from finding out about their activities.
“There is also a role for Northern Ireland Electricity, given the huge amounts of power that is used to heat the plants, drive the extraction fans and provide the ventilation. In some cases, the power is tapped into illegally from the grid and it is important that communities are vigilant to any work that may be designed to carry out this theft of electricity. The police should also be liaising more closely with NIE to identify unusually high electricity bills.
“Criminality of this sort usually results in further criminality and is also the source of many violent assaults that occur on a weekly basis across the constituency and in neighbouring constituencies.”
Mr Wilson went on to point out that in 2011/12, 286 cannabis farms or factories were found across Northern Ireland.
And he added that and whilst East Antrim is not the worst area for the location of these, “it is important that this trade which perpetuates modern slavery and provides profits for criminals and spreads misery in communities is dealt with severely by the police.”