Belfast Telegraph

SDLP in discussions to give new crimebusting unit a bigger role here

BY NOEL MCADAM

The SDLP is involved in negotiations which would allow the controversial National Crime Agency (NCA) to operate more fully in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said the discussions are a "work in progress."

With the Assembly due to debate the issue again tomorrow, she also said her party would need assurances from Home Secretary Theresa May that underpinning legislation will reflect nationalist concerns.

Until now the SDLP and Sinn Fein have blocked giving full powers to the NCA in the province over fears it could lead to the creation of a parallel and unaccountable police force. But SDLP support would prevent an Assembly 'petition of concern' from succeeding.

Mrs Kelly, who is a member of the policing board, said: "We have had a number of meetings including discussions with the Justice Minister and we are asking for assurances that the NCA would be accountable to the policing board."

The Upper Bann MLA said Justice Minister David Ford had made an "offer" on how accountability might work.

Her comments came after the DUP MLA Peter Weir said the NCA could be accountable to Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who is responsible to the policing board.

The DUP has tabled a motion asking the Assembly to recognise the chief constable's concern that failure to establish the NCA in Northern Ireland will impact on the PSNI's ability to protect life and to tackle serious crimes "and will work to ensure no further delays...on the work of the NCA being extended to Northern Ireland."

An SDLP amendment calls on Mrs May and Mr Ford to urgently introduce statutory amendments to guarantee the NCA and its operations in Northern Ireland "are fully accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board".

STORY SO FAR

Justice Minister David Ford has warned efforts to tackle child exploitation, cyber crime, asset recovery and drugs trafficking will be severely curtailed if the new National Crime Agency is not fully operational in Northern Ireland. It would replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency and target major crime gangs across local, national and international borders.

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