Dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries have been warned that the National Crime Agency (NCA) will be out to smash their criminal networks when it becomes fully functional in Northern Ireland.
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said the NCA would provide a significant boost to his service’s efforts to dismantle the organised rackets the gunmen use to make money.
We shouldn’t pretend that loyalist paramilitary criminal gangs or violent dissident republicans are not engaged in organised criminality – that’s how they generate their funds.Mr Hamilton
The UK’s national crime fighting body will start working at full capacity in the region on May 20 after a long political impasse delayed the move.
The threat posed by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process remains severe and this month has witnessed a spate of attacks, with a police patrol coming under fire from a launched explosive device in Belfast and a bomb exploding outside a Probation Board building in Londonderry. No one was injured in the incidents.
There has an also been an upsurge in violent paramilitary style attacks by members of the UDA in the north Antrim area, including a murder and a number of other shootings.
Mr Hamilton told members of his oversight body – the NI Policing Board – his officers were already doing great work to tackle the paramilitary threat.
But he said the NCA would add another dimension to the PSNI’s capability.
The NCA will not be involved in counter-terrorism operations in Northern Ireland, but its remit will include organised criminality committed by paramilitaries, such as smuggling, drug dealing and counterfeiting.
“The National Crime Agency will become operational in Northern Ireland next month,” Mr Hamilton said after the board meeting in Belfast.
“Their job is to tackle serious and organised crime. We shouldn’t pretend that loyalist paramilitary criminal gangs or violent dissident republicans are not engaged in organised criminality – that’s how they generate their funds.
“So there is a place where this national security threat, these terrorist groups, bump into organised criminality and where that happens we will use whatever facilities that are available to us, including the National Crime Agency, to bring them to justice, to make their life difficult, to seize their assets, to confiscate their money and to make life difficult.
“That is well within the remit of the NCA as they tackle serious and organised crime.”
The political agreement at Stormont that delivered the green light for NCA implementation was made possible by the introduction of beefed-up oversight measures to ensure agency officers were accountable to the Policing Board and subject to Police Ombudsman scrutiny, with Mr Hamilton also retaining operational control of their work.