Sinn Fein has come in for criticism after demanding a crackdown on criminality in republican-dominated south Armagh.
The call had come in a statement from bomber-turned-Policing Board member Gerry Kelly who accused the PSNI of an “inability or unwillingness” to tackle lawbreaking in the region.
Both DUP and UUP politicians agreed that stern action should be taken against criminals in the Co Armagh border area, which was formerly a major stronghold of the IRA, but questioned Sinn Fein’s own past attitude towards law enforcement.
Sinn Fein has long been closely linked to leading republican figure Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, who is based in the region and was recently jailed for tax evasion.
It is understood he is to appeal against his conviction this November.
Sinn Fein, along with the SDLP, had also opposed moves to allow the recently-formed National Crime Agency (NCA) to operate with its full complement of powers in Northern Ireland, amid concerns about how accountable the agency would be.
The UK body has been likened to the FBI in America, and targets serious and organised crime.
MLAs eventually voted to let it become fully operational in Northern Ireland in May last year, after the SDLP dropped its own opposition to the move.
In a statement on Tuesday, North Belfast MLA Mr Kelly said he and his colleagues had “serious concerns about the lack of PSNI action against criminal gangs in south Armagh”.
Citing an increase in equipment theft and intimidation in the region, he said: “There is a growing frustration within the community in south Armagh about the PSNI’s inability or unwillingness to combat the activities of these criminals...
“The apparent impunity with which these criminals can act is risking public confidence in the PSNI in the area.
“We need to see action from the PSNI to tackle these criminals now.”
In response Danny Kennedy, UUP MLA for Newry and Armagh, said: “It’s welcome to see Sinn Fein saying more needs to be done to break up criminal gangs operating in south Armagh.
“I have been campaigning for years to see tougher action taken against those engaged in organised crime, particularly fuel fraud.
“I know of the deep frustration amongst the local community that there have been few convictions and that the suspicion persists of the involvement of republican paramilitaries.
“Perhaps now Sinn Fein will revisit their previous position on the NCA and realise they called it wrong.”
DUP MLA William Irwin, covering the same constituency, agreed that “more could be done” about crime.
But he also noted Sinn Fein’s praise for ‘Slab’ Murphy, which was forthcoming even after he was convicted, saying: “You can’t have it both ways.”
Speaking of the latest call for a crackdown on crime, he said: “We have to be convinced that it is not hypocrisy.”