Belfast Telegraph

MPs frustrated over crime agency

MPs have vented their frustration at the Government's impotence in securing operational access for a new crime agency in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Minister Mike Penning said the Government was sympathetic to their concerns, conceding that they too were frustrated by moves from Sinn Fein and the SDLP, which had resulted in a weakened agency.

Democratic Unionist MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley asked if the Northern Ireland Secretary was "content with the delay in the implementation of the Information Management Strategy (IMS) procedure between customs and excise in the Republic and the HMRC in Northern Ireland.

"This delay is frustrating: frustrating for security services, putting millions of pounds in the hands of criminals, and more importantly, helping and assisting organised crime. What are you going to do about it?"

Answering on behalf of Theresa Villiers, Mr Penning said: "We are doing everything we possibly can. Are we frustrated? Yes, we are. Are the police frustrated? Yes, they are. But we have to make sure it's robust and it's legal and we will get there."

MPs raised concerns that failure to ensure the National Crime Agency has the powers to act in Northern Ireland poses a serious security threat.

Labour's David Hanson, MP for Delyn, asked Ms Villiers if she was able to give a date by which she can assure the Irish Foreign Minister that the National Crime Agency and the asset recovery scheme will operate in the region, saying it was a matter which "affects both sides of the border quite dramatically".

Ms Villiers acknowledged the obstacles that were posed by Northern Ireland's devolved government. "It is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. We are disappointed that they haven't taken up our offer for the operation of the NCA in devolved spheres," she said.

Other MPs were worried that organised criminals were able to exploit the apparent security gap, with a number of them suggesting that fuel-laundering was on the rise.

To reassure them, Ms Villiers said: "I can reassure the house that the NCA will be able to operate in matters that are not devolved, including HMRC matters and fuel fraud."

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