JUSTICE Minister David Ford has warned that Northern Ireland does not have all the expertise to tackle serious crime if nationalists continue to veto the extension of the National Crime Agency (NCA) to Northern Ireland.
There are mounting fears that the disagreement between the SDLP and Sinn Fein and the Government is not going to be resolved and the NCA will not be able to operate fully within Northern Ireland.
Speaking to the News Letter ahead of the Alliance Party’s annual conference outside Belfast today, Mr Ford that there had been “some ongoing discussions but the issue is not finally resolved”.
The Alliance leader said: “If a legislative consent motion [permitting the NCA to operate in Northern Ireland] is not passed by the Assembly, then the NCA cannot operate in the devolved sphere in support of the work the PSNI do on things like drugs smuggling, human trafficking, child exploitation online, all of which are key devolved areas.
“That would place significant additional burdens on the PSNI carrying out that work without access to the UK agency which is the specialist body.
“We are too small a jurisdiction to have all the specialisms we need without linking into wider UK structures.”
HM Revenue and Customs recently raised its dissatisfaction at the fact that no one has been jailed for fuel laundering in Northern Ireland, with just suspended sentences being handed down.
Mr Ford is chairman of the Organised Crime Taskforce. When asked if he could do anything about the lack of prison terms for fuel launderers, Mr Ford said that he had to be “very careful” as sentencing is a matter for the courts.
However, he said: “The issue of sentencing is for the judiciary and there is also a tendency to follow precedent, so if a custodial sentence wasn’t given for such and such an offence, then a very similar offence will probably also only get a suspended sentence so there are issues around how we address that.
“We haven’t had the opportunity for a guideline judgment which might help define some of those things.”