Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Minister regrets Stormont opt-out

Home Office minister Jeremy Browne beleives Northern Ireland will be at greater risk of organised criminal gangs than the rest of the UK

The people of Northern Ireland could face a greater threat from crime gangs because Stormont politicians have refused to give the new National Crime Agency (NCA) full powers to operate there, MPs were warned.

Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne was forced to table amendments to legislation limiting the role of the NCA in Northern Ireland which he said would have "implications for the fight against serious and organised crime".

Mr Browne said he was acting with "great regret" following the move by the SDLP and Sinn Fein to prevent the NCA being given full police powers.

"To say that this is a disappointing outcome does not do justice to the implications that this will have for the effectiveness of the National Crime Agency and more importantly the protection of the people of Northern Ireland," Mr Browne said.

"We are upfront about this as a Government, it is not the outcome that we sought but we are obviously required to deal with the situation as it is rather than as we would wish it to be."

The Crime and Courts Bill which sets up the NCA - the so-called British FBI - was being debated by MPs at its report stage.

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the impasse was through "no want of trying" by his party.

Mr Browne said: "I share his anguish. I want all people in the United Kingdom, regardless of which part of the United Kingdom they live in, to be as protected as they possibly can be by the agencies of the State when it comes to the risk that they potentially are exposed to from serious and organised crime.

"Clearly the NCA has been brought into being because we regard it as an important institution for protecting the public from serious and organised crime ... many of its functions will apply in Northern Ireland but it will not apply as extensively in Northern Ireland as it does in England and that's a source of regret to me."

He added: "This House should be under no illusion this decision will have implications for the fight against serious and organised crime in Northern Ireland."

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