Belfast Telegraph

Liam Clarke: NCA protection is badly needed ...and it's free

By Liam Clarke

One bit of free money that shouldn't be ignored in the talks is that being offered by the National Crime Agency. This new body, the rough UK equivalent of the FBI, was set up last month to replace the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) but doesn't operate fully here.

The reason is that Sinn Fein and the SDLP don't trust its UK-wide role or the fact that it reports to the Home Secretary and not the Policing Board or the Assembly. This is despite the fact that the NCA would be subject to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland in many areas. It would need the agreement of the police force prior - I stress, prior - to the use of covert techniques, such as covert human intelligence sources.

Besides these enhanced accountability arrangements, which do not apply in England, NCA largely carries out the role of SOCA, which operated here before Policing and Justice was devolved in 2010.

SOCA just carried on but it did not strike planners that replacing it would be a problem. MI5, with a huge local HQ in Holywood, is another national UK body that operates here. In fact, if we had the NCA some of MI5's importance might decline as the new body, which has powers of arrest elsewhere in the UK, moved from the area of normal organised crime to terrorism.

The two overlap. Fuel laundering is a major activity by dissidents who peddle their wares beyond these shores into Britain and Europe. Paramilitary gangs with strong bases here are being given an advantage over criminal gangs based elsewhere in the UK and Ireland. In fact, the NCA finds it easier to co-operate with the Gardai on some major investigations where drugs or other contraband are being moved through the island of Ireland.

We also have about 880 criminal gangs here who derive an advantage from the absence of the NCA. The latest Organised Crime Taskforce report found that organsited crime is increasingly turning to drugs, human trafficking, fuel fraud, killing, abusing and online extortion.

The NCA is also the gateway to co-operation with similar agencies in other jurisdictions combating transnational crime. Attempting to duplicate its role is a luxury which a hard-pressed regional force like the PSNI cannot afford on top of the mounting pressures it faces.

This is an additional layer of protection which wouldn't cost us a penny. ​

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