A DUP MP has dramatically claimed that Sinn Fein vetoed the creation of a new national crime agency because the party is still involved in organised crime.
In comments which raise uncomfortable questions for the DUP leadership about its place at the Stormont Executive table, Ian Paisley Jnr claimed that “a friend of the leader of Sinn Fein” was responsible for “most of the illegal fuel that arrives in the United Kingdom”.
He said that there was “a vested interest” in republicans vetoing the creation of the National Crime Agency (NCA) – which is to be Britain’s equivalent of the FBI – because they wanted to “keep their criminal power intact”.
While in years past such comments from the DUP were frequent, in recent years the party has argued that Sinn Fein has moved on from the criminality of the IRA. Mr Paisley’s father, Lord Bannside, has repeatedly said that Sinn Fein support for the police and the rule of law was crucial to persuading him to share power with Martin McGuinness.
Mr Paisley made his claims at Westminster on Tuesday but they are only coming to light now.
The North Antrim MP was not speaking in the main chamber but in the less-reported Public Bill Committee and the News Letter’s attention was drawn to the comments last night.
A spokesman for Sinn Fein last night said: “If Ian Paisley Jnr has any evidence to back up his allegations, he should bring the evidence forward.”
Mr Paisley’s comments were made as MPs debated the creation of the NCA, just days after it emerged that Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s Executive ministers had vetoed the anti-crime body being extended to Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the committee, Mr Paisley said: “We have a terrible situation where the leader of a political party in Northern Ireland who is in the government of Northern Ireland has described one of the single largest gangsters in Northern Ireland, who is involved in the most fuel fraud activities, as ‘a fine gentleman’.
“I think that man has got problems. The reason why they now want to block this is because they want something out of it for this ‘fine gentleman’.
“We must therefore stamp our feet here and make it very clear that although we will have this negotiation, be in no doubt that we will protect the national security of all the people of these islands that are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Mr Paisley also said that the Sinn Fein-SDLP veto “completely changes the tone and colour of the Bill [which will create the NCA]”.
And, in comments which push the Government to implement the agency in full over the head of the Executive – despite the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont more than two years ago – Mr Paisley said: “We must know from the minister, therefore, whether the Government will be able to overrule if the Executive decide, or if three members of the Executive decide, to block the operation of the legislative consent motion in Northern Ireland.”
He also said that “we must ensure that we do not let devolution be the altar on which we sacrifice combating organised crime” and said that “we are unfortunately now at a crossroads”.
He questioned whether “given that the NCA is a national agency, it is outwith the devolution settlement?”
Mr Paisley also said: “Will the minister indicate that implementing only some of the provisions would be the wrong way to go? Implementing only some of the provisions in Northern Ireland would be totally wrong for Northern Ireland and for all of the United Kingdom.
“Most of the illegal fuel that arrives in the United Kingdom is laundered in Northern Ireland, in south Armagh. It just so happens that it is laundered by a friend of the leader of Sinn Fein, a Mr Murphy.
“It just so happens that it was his party that blocked this legislation. I do not know if you are getting the coincidence here, but I am picking up something.
“I think that we have to recognise that there is a vested interest by some people who are still wedded to the past – there is a vested interest for them to keep their criminal power intact.”
Mr Paisley accused Sinn Fein of being “quite content to allow paedophiles and international gangsters to run writ across Northern Ireland”.
Amid unionist disquiet at how nationalist ministers vetoed the NCA at last week’s Executive meeting, the Ulster Unionists have now tabled a Stormont motion for debate on Monday, in an attempt to get the Assembly to vote to support the creation of the NCA.
Such a vote on a Private Member’s Bill would have no legal effect, but would show the Government what level of support for the NCA there is across the Assembly.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey has also tabled six questions in the House of Lords which ask the Government about the implications of the Executive’s decision.
Among them, the former UUP leader and veteran Executive minister has asked the Government whether it would continue to operate the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA, the NCA’s predecessor) in light of the Executive’s veto to key aspects of the NCA.
Lord Empey said that there was a danger that if the NCA does not extend to Northern Ireland it will make the Province “a soft underbelly” of the UK and lead to criminal gangs deliberately targeting Northern Ireland.
He told the News Letter: “It could mean that gangs are subjected to less scrutiny if a national agency couldn’t function properly in Northern Ireland. That’s the biggest anxiety that I have and what would that mean for us?”
Referring to people trafficking, he added: “You need to be able to deal with these people on a national and international basis.”
Lord Empey said that he believed that nationalist ministers – who say that they vetoed the bill due to concerns about the accountability of the new body – had actually objected out of “ideological” opposition to a pan-UK body.
And Lord Empey said that the Sinn Fein and SDLP actions vindicated the Ulster Unionists’ fears about the devolution of policing and justice.
“We weren’t opposed in principle to the devolution of policing and justice but what we wanted was discussions with the parties and a broad agreement on how we were going to handle contentious issues and one of those was: What would happen if, God forbid, something were to happen to the police and they couldn’t operate in certain parts of Northern Ireland and the chief constable had to send for the Army?
“None of that discussion ever took place.”
He said that DUP claims about a “triple lock” over justice powers had been exposed by the incident, and added: “What we have here is a single lock, namely Sinn Fein, and they’ve said no and that’s it. There’s absolutely nothing Peter can do about it.”