Belfast Telegraph

David Ford plan ensures 'British FBI' will be answerable to Policing Board

By Chris Kilpatrick

The head of the so-called British FBI would have no powers to direct Northern Ireland's Chief Constable and could be held to account by the policing watchdog here, those blocking the work of the National Crime Agency have been assured.

Justice Minister David Ford made a fresh bid to break the deadlock over the work of a UK-wide crime-fighting agency here amid warnings political wrangling over the National Crime Agency (NCA) is increasingly putting Northern Ireland at risk.

Mr Ford submitted revised proposals to the main political parties detailing operational and accountability measures which he hopes can resolve the "dire" impasse.

Among the proposals compiled by Mr Ford, the head of the NCA, Keith Bristow, would be compelled to appear before the Policing Board.

And the NCA would be required to secure permission from the PSNI before engaging in sensitive covert operations.

Mr Ford said it was vital disagreements over how the NCA was made accountable in Northern Ireland be dealt with soon.

Politicians from Sinn Fein and the SDLP have blocked moves to give the NCA powers to carry out police operations and recruit agents amid oversight concerns.

Mr Ford said Northern Ireland was currently facing a serious deficit in its law enforcement arrangements.

The NCA targets crime gangs across national and global borders. Mr Ford said NCA would be unable to use constabulary powers in Northern Ireland without the agreement of the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The Chief Constable would be accountable to the Policing Board for giving that agreement.

"In addition, the Director General [of the NCA] could be called to attend the Policing Board – that will be in statute," Mr Ford said. "He will be answerable to the board for how he is implementing his annual plan in connection with Northern Ireland.

"That is a plan on which he must secure the board's prior consent. In drafting it he must also take account of the Northern Ireland Policing Plan.

"These are just a few of the provisions set out in the proposal.

"Others include the Police Ombudsman's remit covering all of the functions of the NCA here, as well as the Criminal Justice Inspector's role being extended."

Mr Ford said he would not be introducing legislation which would force the PSNI to provide assistance to the NCA.

Mr Ford said it was prepared following "detailed consultation with the Home Office, Northern Ireland Office, National Crime Agency, PSNI and others".

He added: "I believe it offers a reasonable, proportionate package. I hope that the parties will recognise that.

"I hope they will also recognise that I have responded to concerns, and will recognise that we need to resolve this issue soon.

"We will leave Northern Ireland vulnerable because the NCA is not able fully to support the police operationally. Unlike the rest of the UK and indeed the Republic of Ireland, we do not have a process to remove assets from those preying on our society."

Quotes

"This dire situation needs to be resolved. I have listened to comments that the parties have made on earlier proposals surrounding the accountability of the NCA and I believe that this paper, which builds on the earlier proposals, provides an appropriate structure for this jurisdiction and, critically, respects police primacy and gives the Policing Board an important role."

Justice Minister David Ford

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