Belfast Telegraph

'Optimism' over NCA's extension

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said there is "some optimism" that progress is being made towards an agreement that would allow full implementation of the National Crime Agency in the province.

The UK-wide crime fighting body does not currently have complete powers, largely because of nationalist concerns over its accountability.

Today in the Commons, Ms Villiers said "some very good discussions" were under way at the highest level, but she urged Labour to work with its sister party the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which wants clarification on oversight mechanisms.

She told MPs: "I think there is some optimism that real progress is being made and I would urge all involved in that and urge Labour to work with their sister party the SDLP on this too because the NCA provides excellent services and at the moment Northern Ireland is not getting the full benefit of the protection the NCA can offer."

But Democratic Unionist justice spokesman Nigel Dodds said Sinn Fein was the "real impediment" to full implementation through its veto in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He asked what steps she was taking to bring them on board.

Ms Villiers said she had been "actively involved" for many months, adding: "I raise this issue with Sinn Fein virtually every time I have a conversation with them.

"It is essential we see movement on this. The reality is it will be more difficult to seize the assets of criminals without full implementation of the NCA.

"It will be more difficult to crack down on drug dealing and racketeering and serious organised crime without full powers of the NCA.

"I will continue to urge Sinn Fein and SDLP to accept the extension of NCA's remit."

She insisted reassurances were in place that any activity by the NCA would be "entirely consistent" with the devolved policing and justice settlement.

She continued: " It is crucial I think that all parties ... get behind introduction of the full powers of the NCA in Northern Ireland because that is a means by which we can ensure we do more to keep people in Northern Ireland safe.

"And also it helps relieve the pressure on the Police Service of Northern Ireland in terms of resources."

In a Commons debate last year, Democratic Unionist Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) said while Sinn Fein and the SDLP were holding up an agreement on the NCA, more than 140 criminal gangs continued to overwhelm the PSNI.

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