A further call for a new FBI-style crime fighting agency to be given full operational powers in Northern Ireland is to be made in the Stormont Assembly.
Opposition from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP has blocked the National Crime Agency (NCA) from operating against international crime gangs in the Province as it would in the rest of the UK. Leading experts on drug smuggling and people trafficking have warned that Northern Ireland will be more vulnerable to organised crime as a result of the nationalist objections.
In the Assembly tomorrow, the DUP will highlight concerns also raised by Chief Constable Matt Baggott – claiming the failure to establish a fully operational NCA will “impact on the PSNI’s ability to protect life under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and to tackle serious crime”.
The motion calls for “no further delays” in ensuring the agency becomes fully operational.
Last week, former Assets Recovery Agency director Alan McQuillan told the News Letter that concerns over accountability could be easily addressed. He said the opposition appeared “political” rather than practical and added: “Given our problems here we don’t need a second best solution – we need a state-of-the-art solution.”
Commenting on Tuesday’s motion, the DUP’s Peter Weir said that while it was still likely to be opposed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, he hopes the SDLP could be reassured over the necessity for full NCA powers in the near future.
“The variances are over the level of accountability,” he said. Mr Weir said any further delay in approving full powers for the NCA would leave Northern Ireland a “weak link in the chain”.
“From the point of view of existing criminals, there are weaknesses in respect of assets recovery and child exploitation,” he said.
“We have worked with the Chief Constable and the Department of Justice, and what we have seen is the Chief Constable being able to negotiate with the Home Office the greatest level of accountability of anywhere in the UK. We will have a unique situation in which the Chief Constable will have full responsibility for policing in Northern Ireland.
“On any NCA issue they will be accountable to him and the Chief Constable will remain accountable to the Policing Board,” Mr Weir added.
Speaking on the BBC Sunday Politics programme yesterday, Dolores Kelly of the SDLP said: “I recognise that there needs to be greater coordination across all of the different agencies – we want to see a National Crime Agency operating here in the north of Ireland – but we want it to do so with the highest level of confidence from the public, and the highest level of transparency, and indeed that it is fully accountable to the Policing Board and that no operations can take place without the agreement of the Chief Constable.”
The Home Secretary announced plans for the creation of the NCA back in 2011.
With a remit to “lead the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime”, it became fully operational in England, Scotland and Wales on October 2 this year.
The agency targets those criminals and groups posing the biggest risks to the UK: by conducting its own anti-crime operations; by providing operational and specialist support to its partners’ operations, and by providing “clear national leadership” to ensure that UK law enforcement bodies target their resources most effectively.
NCA responsibilities include, among other things, border security, economic crime, cyber crime and the CEOP body “dedicated to eradicating the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children and young people,” whilst using the internet.