Unionist politicians have unleashed an emotive attack on nationalists over their failure to fully back the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Robin Newton, DUP MLA for East Belfast, said that those who were blocking the agency from becoming fully operational here were endangering children to suit their own political needs, adding that they should collectively “hang their heads in shame”.
In addition, Tom Elliott MLA, the UUP’s justice spokesman, said the Province’s children had less protection than those on the UK mainland because of the “petty politics” of nationalists.
Both were reacting to a report from the United Nations last week, which criticised the failure to extend all the powers of the supposedly UK-wide NCA to cover the Province.
Mr Newton said: “This report is embarrassing and has been brought about only by politicians who, for their own narrow political agenda, are letting down innocent and vulnerable children, placing them in danger of abuse and cruelty by international crime gangs.
“The law-abiding public will be baffled and worried that Sinn Fein and the SDLP cannot sign up to the NCA.
“The NCA operates in England, Scotland and Wales to tackle the growing menace of international crime.”
He added: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is strongly critical that the NCA is not fully operational in Northern Ireland.
“The UN report specifically mentions Northern Ireland’s inability to tackle the issue of children as victims of crime, human trafficking or those abused within the system.”
Mr Elliott said: “The Ulster Unionist Party has warned time and time again that we are more vulnerable to serious organised crime than any other part of the United Kingdom.”
He went on to quote from a passage in the UN committee’s report which said its members are “strongly concerned” about the inability of the agency to operate fully in the Province.
Mr Elliott added: “It is a total disgrace that children in Northern Ireland should have less protection because of the petty politics of Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
“They need to get real and support the National Crime Agency being given full operational powers in Northern Ireland.”
The NCA operates in Northern Ireland when it comes to non-devolved issues like immigration, but not others.
Nationalists had objected to its powers being extended, citing fears over how accountable the agency would be in the Province.