Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Don't risk lives over crime agency

The warning could not be clearer. Lives will be put at risk if the National Crime Agency is not allowed to operate fully in Northern Ireland. That is the assessment of top officers in the PSNI of the impact of the Sinn Fein and SDLP opposition to the FBI-style body. There will be other drawbacks as well including lack of powers to hit organised criminals by seizing assets, no access to specialised teams of crime fighters and covert operatives, and less ability to fight cyber crime or offences against children.

The police have spelled out the implications for them of a continued blocking of the NCA operations here. What we have not heard are the alternatives that Sinn Fein or the SDLP would put forward to fight organised crime. We understand the psyche at work here among the nationalist parties which will point to recent history of what can go wrong if policing is not subject to controls and supervision.

Yet both parties have pledged their support for the new policing structures in Northern Ireland which contain checks and balances and must realise that some aspects of the fight against organised and international crime must remain as unfettered as possible. If other parts of the UK are content for the NCA to operate subject to the oversight of the Home Secretary at Westminster then surely it is not a quantum leap for politicians here to take a similar view.

Many people here, not just from the unionist community, will feel that the nationalist parties, and in particular the SDLP which is seen as the moderate voice of nationalism, are sailing very close to the wind with their opposition to the NCA operating here. We know that the province is the base for dangerous, organised criminals and that more could use it as a gateway to the rest of the UK if the NCA's operations are restricted here. This is a highly professional body with quite a clear focus on its potential targets and it should be allowed to get on with the job it was established for.

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