Belfast Telegraph

Stormont's funding snub to our 'FBI' is slammed

By Noel McAdam

The National Crime Agency has been refused money by Stormont, it has been claimed.

The gang-busting body - the UK's answer to the FBI - was only allowed to operate in Northern Ireland in 2015 after a two-year political stand-off.

An MLA told the Assembly yesterday the refusal of cash by the Department of Justice was "absolutely extraordinary".

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said: "We are talking about ending organised crime, paramilitarism and criminality, yet we have not funded the NCA at the very start. The NCA brings a certain expertise and strategic intelligence; its raison d'etre is dealing with organised crime, and we have not funded it.

"It did put in for funding, but was taken out because it is a non-devolved body, so it has to apply through the PSNI to get funding."

Sinn Fein and the SDLP opposed the NCA operating in the province over fears about lack of accountability.

But a breakthrough was achieved 20 months ago after then Justice Minister David Ford insisted the body would be subject to the same code of ethics that applied to the PSNI.

Mr Beattie's claim came as the Assembly debated the Executive's blueprint for tackling paramilitarism - a plan that the UK Government is refusing to release £5m for until it has been improved upon.

Alliance's Stewart Dickson said: "The plan fails to identify which departments have responsibility for specific actions. There is little evidence of fresh thinking or a willingness to even engage in that."

Referring to Arlene Foster's recent photograph with UDA leader Dee Stitt, he added: "When we see ministers, including our First Minister, posing for photographs with current paramilitaries, a wrong and destructive message is being sent out."

Paul Frew (DUP) rounded on the UUP and SDLP, saying they had been in charge in the years after the Good Friday Agreement when "more people were recruited into loyalist paramilitaries" than during the Troubles.

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said Justice Minister Claire Sugden and the Executive "cannot run or hide from that fact" that the Government was holding onto funding "until the Executive agrees a more detailed action plan".

Ms Sugden said the Executive had not yet asked for the Westminster money because it still had "preparation work" to do, but £4m had already been spent on new forensic equipment for the police and on the start of an anti-paramilitary public awareness campaign.

Belfast Telegraph


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