Police in Northern Ireland have warned that their ability to tackle international criminality will be compromised if a new UK-wide force is prevented from fully operating in the region.
Senior commanders have expressed serious concerns that an ongoing political impasse on the deployment of the FBI-style National Crime Agency (NCA) has not been resolved, seven months before its formation.
Nationalist parties at Stormont have blocked legislative moves to allow the NCA to work at full capacity in Northern Ireland, claiming its officers would not be subject to the same accountability mechanisms that were central to peace process reforms of policing.
Earlier this year PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the region was in danger of being "left outside the tent" when it came to the UK's efforts to tackle organised crime gangs if the NCA was not able to operate fully in the region. Three months on, and with politicians still at loggerheads, the PSNI has issued a statement outlining what it believes are the potential consequences of not being able to call on the NCA.
Police insisted appropriate oversight could be achieved if overall responsibility for all operations involving the NCA rested with Mr Baggott - who as PSNI chief constable is accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
The PSNI statement said: "Criminality has no respect for boundaries. It is therefore vitally important that the PSNI can access both the international reach which the NCA will provide and the ability to draw down on the expertise that the agency will offer. This expertise will include specialist support on human trafficking, child abuse, the analysis and movement of drugs and civil recovery of criminal assets.
"It is the PSNI view that if the NCA is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, this will have a detrimental impact on our ability to keep people safe. The precise extent of this impact is difficult to quantify at this stage but it will definitely have an adverse impact on PSNI performance in combating serious and organised crime. Organised crime is an international problem and Northern Ireland is a target for international crime groups.
"At the same time, we are acutely aware that the confidence and consent of the whole community are essential to the delivery of policing. We recognise that agreed accountability plays a central role in achieving this. Northern Ireland is in a unique position. Major aspects of policing and justice have been devolved here and the accountability arrangements are rightly a matter for local and central Government to determine.
"It remains our view that the NCA should only work in Northern Ireland alongside the PSNI, so that operational control ultimately remains with the Chief Constable and nothing proceeds without agreement. There must be complete transparency for PSNI of the NCA's intelligence, investigations and operational activity. Through such arrangements, the Chief Constable can be held accountable for NCA operations via the Policing Board.
"PSNI will continue to strive to ensure such a situation can be achieved through binding agreement, whether through legislation or other suitable mechanisms. The detail of this is, rightly, not for the PSNI but for others to decide. However, the repercussions of failing to reach agreement will have an adverse impact on community safety in Northern Ireland in terms of PSNI's ability to combat serious and organised crime."