Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Sinn Fein and SDLP wrong to oppose National Crime Agency

SDLP's Alban Maginness
SDLP's Alban Maginness

There seems to be no shortage of topics on which the Northern Ireland politicians choose to disagree, but the latest row seems bizarre even by the contemporary standards of Stormont.

The two main unionist parties are strongly criticising Sinn Fein and the SDLP in the wake of a United Nations committee warning that their failure to allow the National Crime Agency (NCA) to operate in Northern Ireland is leaving children vulnerable to organised crime here

The details are complex, but it appears that the NCA, which targets criminals engaged in child exploitation, does not operate in Northern Ireland because of the nationalist parties' concerns about its accountability.

The NCA is directly accountable to the Home Secretary Theresa May, and not to the PNSI Chief Constable George Hamilton nor to other relevant scrutinising bodies here.

The Justice Minister David Ford has expressed his concern in the area of local law-enforcement effectiveness. While the PSNI has access to information gathered by the NCA and to advice from this body, there is no means by which the NCA can bring this information and expertise to bear on the ground here.

Most reasonable people might conclude that every assistance should given to those trying to protect children here, but not so the non-unionist politicians.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness surprisingly claims that there is no evidence of young people being exploited here by organised crime.

But it is naive to believe that the influence of exploitive and evil people does not pose a huge threat to all children, irrespective of national borders.

Accountable policing is important, but surely it is not beyond the bounds of political common sense to devise a system here which would give our children the utmost protection.

The unionist parties are right to criticise this narrow, dog-in-the-manger attitude of those nationalist and republican politicians who seem to be putting party politics above good sense.

Significantly, the independent United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged for safeguards against discrimination against children here, because of the devolution of justice powers from London to Belfast.

This committee has no axe to grind, and its advice should be heeded.

Our local politicians are right to take accountable policing seriously, but they are wrong to allow provincial dogmatism to risk the safety of our children.

It is time that Sinn Fein and the SDLP seriously re-addressed this issue.

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