DUP MLA Maurice Devenney says the extension of the new police superforce, the National Crime Agency (NCA), after a delay of over a year due to the opposition of both the SDLP and Sinn Féin, means Northern Ireland will no longer be a soft touch for organised criminals.
The Assembly last week voted to approve the almost full extension to Northern Ireland of what’s been dubbed a United Kingdom (UK) version of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last week.
The extension followed a U-turn by the SDLP, which said it had secured sufficient assurances on accountability, to support the move.
Following the approval, Mr Devenney said: “The NCA has had successes in catching criminals involved in smuggling huge sums of money out of the UK, working to prevent counterfeit currency operations as well as dealing with child cruelty cases.
“The fact that NCA will now be fully operational it will mean that criminal gangs who had been potentially escaping justice due to NI not being as well equipped as the rest of the UK will now be brought to justice.
“It is also important to note the increased accountability mechanisms in place, ensuring that the NCA works alongside the PSNI, secures agreement on operations and is to be accountable to the NI Policing Board.
“Whilst it is regrettable that it has taken so long to get to this point it is nevertheless a significant step forward in protecting citizens and ensuring that Northern Ireland is not viewed as a soft touch for organised criminals.”
Following Tuesday’s vote, the superforce, which has been described as a UK version of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and which under the Crime and Courts Act 2013 replaced the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) in the rest of the United Kingdom in 2013, will soon have almost full application here.
But as it stands, some provisions still won’t apply.
For example, the Justice Minister David Ford will not be allowed to tell the PSNI to help the NCA or vice versa.
Notwithstanding this exclusion, the Assembly did agree that a future Home Secretary may use Schedule 24 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 to extend any relevant NCA powers the force wields elsewhere to Northern Ireland.