Two Fermanagh men who stood to make millions by illegally transporting waste from the Republic of Ireland have been given suspended jail sentences and had assets worth almost £300,000 confiscated.

Cyril McGuinness, aged 44, of Teemore Road, Derrylin, and Cormac McCaffrey, aged 36, from Curryanne Road, Maguiresbridge, admitted 22 charges relating to the illegal transport of waste from one country to another.

McGuinness was sentenced to nine months" imprisonment and McCaffrey to six months, each suspended for two years.

The case at Omagh Crown Court followed a two-year investigation after a BBC Spotlight programme highlighted the illegal transportation of waste from the Republic through Northern Ireland to Scotland.

It took financial investigators another two years to work out how much money McGuinness and McCaffrey made from the scheme.

McGuinness was said to have benefitted by £2.5 million and McCaffrey by £500,000.

However, only a fraction of that - less than £300,000 - has been recovered through a Confiscation Order made under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The men originally appeared in court with McGuinness"s wife, Mary, back in April 2005, on 81 charges relating to alleged money laundering, illegal waste disposal and handling stolen goods. Those charges were not proceeded with.

The 22 offences that McGuinness and McCaffrey pleaded 'guilty' to were committed between October 1, 2003, and May 29, 2004, and related to the illegal shipment of waste from one country to another and involved about 300,000 euro. However, a Proceeds of Crime Order Certificate of Benefit granted by the court stated that the illegal waste operation was worth £3 million. It said McGuinness benefitted to the tune of £2.5 million and McCaffrey by £500,000.

McGuinness had £189,000 confiscated, made up of his half-share of the equity in his house, and a small amount of cash in the bank, and McCaffrey had £100,000 confiscated, amounting to the equity in his house. They have six months to pay the money or face two years in prison.

The prosecution said the operation to ship the household waste appeared to be all above board. The men, trading under the name of Fermanagh Waste Recycling Ltd., registered to McGuinness"s home address in Derrylin, were paid by five companies in the Republic to dispose of the waste. They then paid the costs involved in transporting it, and the going rate to dispose of it in a legal landfill facility in Ayrshire, Scotland, including the Landfill Tax. Their company even paid Corporation Tax on the profits.

However, moving the waste from one country to another breached EU regulations. The court was told the men could even have applied for a permit to do what they did, but instead they hoped to profit by attempting to conceal where the waste had come from.

They stood to profit from the higher cost of waste disposal in the Republic where landfill space is expected to run out in eight years. The United Kingdom is estimated to have about 20 years of landfill left.

Following the BBC Spotlight investigation, Northern Ireland"s Environment and Heritage Service carried out an inspection of Euroskips Ltd. on the Castlereagh Road in Belfast, of which McGuinness and McCaffrey were office holders. They discovered that about 90 per cent of the contents of a skip was household waste from the Republic. It had been covered with a top layer of waste from Northern Ireland in an attempt to conceal the true origin of the waste beneath.

Subsequent investigations found that tonnes of waste had been taken to a lawful landfill site in Scotland.

McGuinness" defence barrister said this was not a case of fly tipping. There were no public health risks. They were transporting the waste in the proper way, but illegally. He pointed out that the benefit established by the court of £2.5 million did not equal the profit involved as they paid the cost of transport, drivers, landfill charges and tax in Scotland out of the amount they received. He said there was a considerable amount of cost involved, and that the company had even paid £79,000 Corporation Tax.

McCaffrey"s barrister said he was a married man with three young children. He ran a haulage business which is how he became involved in these matters. He claimed the profit he made was nothing more than the normal haulage rates.

His Honour Judge McFarland told McGuinness and McCaffrey: 'You were operating a legitimate company contracted with various companies in the South of Ireland to receive waste from them. You were paid £200,000 and the waste was transported through Northern Ireland across the sea to Scotland. It was legitimate on the face of it in that it was taken to a properly regulated landfill facility in Scotland with the appropriate taxes and levies paid. It was not dumped illegally in Northern Ireland. But your criminal conduct breached EU regulations. The problem lies in the Republic where waste collection has been privatised. Perhaps that is the cause of your difficulties. You decided to take advantage and clearly there were profits to be made. Landfill space is a problem - this is a serious matter of public concern.' In handing out the suspended prison sentences the judge said he was taking into account the substantial Proceeds of Crime Orders that had been made and the effect the delay in sentencing had had on McCaffrey.