Belfast Telegraph

Need for crime agency paramount

Editor's Viewpoint

There is no doubt that the PSNI is a force under pressure. It is struggling to cope with severe cuts to its budget at a time when dissident terrorists are still very active. It is to the force's credit that - along with the intelligence services - it continues to disrupt or prevent most potential outrages.

Of course it still has myriad other duties to perform, including in the past week investigating two ghastly murders.

Against that backdrop it defies logic that the PSNI also has to investigate crimes such as international drug trafficking, child exploitation, money laundering, human trafficking and other offences which cross national and international boundaries when there is a specialised force in existence to do that job.

In just one week experienced detectives were taken off other work to spend 400 man hours disrupting an African drug gang intending to flood the province with narcotics.

That job should have fallen to the National Crime Agency, but uniquely in the UK, it is not permitted to operate here except in very specific instances because of objections by nationalist politicians.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have vetoed the NCA's operations here because of concerns over accountability. It is a stance that, inexcusably, is hampering the fight against organised crime, both within the province and from others abroad seeking to exploit this loophole in our defences.

One of the most glaring examples of how the absence of the NCA here is felt is the inability of the PSNI to seize the criminal assets of gangsters. It is estimated that loyalist paramilitary godfathers have amassed staggering £13m profits from their criminal activities but are effectively thumbing their noses at the police.

This quite literally is a criminal waste of crime fighting resources and the nationalist parties must end their objection. They are parties of government, and creating a strong and effective policing service is one of their paramount duties.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. The SDLP is reportedly working towards an accountability regime which could see the party back the NCA operating here. Those discussions should be concluded urgently.

Then Sinn Fein must also get behind the agency and not allow the fight against crime to become an election political football.

Belfast Telegraph

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