The £2 million spent on informants by the PSNI in five years is a necessary expenditure in the fight against terrorism, DUP and UUP Policing Board members have said.
The spend is the largest per capita of any police force in the UK and covers everything from informers in drug gangs to paramilitary groups.
Both the DUP and UUP agreed that the spending was necessary due to Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances, while the SDLP and Sinn Féin emphasised the need for accountability.
The PSNI spent £1,995,390, compared with the £40,000 paid in North Wales, the lowest total spend of any UK police force.
Forces across the UK paid out at least £22m to informants over the last five years, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act in response to queries from the BBC.
Responding to the news, DUP Policing Board member Keith Buchanan said: “Informers are a valuable and long-standing tool in the fight against criminals. The information they provide can be used not only to apprehend those responsible for law-breaking but to prevent crimes from taking place also.
“In a Northern Ireland context, information from informants can be vital in the battle against terrorists. As such this is a necessary expenditure to protect the public and combat crime.”
UUP Policing Board member Philip Smith expressed a similar view, saying: “The recruiting of informants has played an important role in the fight against terror in Northern Ireland. As long as there are checks in place to ensure any money paid out is being used effectively to save lives and close down crime, I think it is money well spent.”
SDLP justice spokesperson Alex Attwood questioned the “scale of the spend”.
He said: “What is the spend of the security service on agents as unfortunately MI5 has the lead on national security?
“Questions also arise for the PSNI; what is the split in PSNI spend on national security agents and other categories of agents; are we absolutely sure that PSNI agents are managed in strict accordance with the rules; are agents assessed on a rolling basis to ensure that it is necessary to retain their services; is the spend proportionately directed towards all risks, terror, organised crime or other criminal activities and what is expended on historic agents and those more recently recruited.”
A Sinn Féin spokesman said: “All police services around the world gather intelligence but this must be done in a manner that is compliant with human rights obligations and accountability mechanisms.”