PSNI chief warns about international criminals targeting Northern Ireland
‘Organised crime is like a parasite, it becomes more and more attached,’ says Baggott
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott: PSNI has lost power to seize criminal assets
International criminals could set up in Northern Ireland because of changes to British policing which have weakened the Northern Ireland police service’s ability to tackle organised crime, Chief Constable Matt Baggott has warned MPs.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) is now responsible for fighting organised crime in Britain, but it will not be able to carry out police investigations in Northern Ireland, or recruit agents, because of opposition from Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
The changes have meant that the PSNI has lost power to seize criminal assets, the PSNI chief constable told the House of Commons’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: “That becomes attractive to international criminals”.
The PSNI has “already seen signs” that some organised crime syndicates have noticed the differences now existing between the North and the rest of the United Kingdom, helped “by the incredibly porous” border with the Republic of Ireland.
‘Outside the tent’
The NCA and the PSNI are making every effort to co-operate: “But if you are outside the tent it is hard to get back in,” said the chief constable. “If you are outside it makes it harder to work with people.”
Staffed by 4,000 officers, the NCA answers directly to the home secretary but, under the Belfast Agreement, policing in Northern Ireland is accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The SDLP and Sinn Féin have raised fears that the NCA could become unaccountable.
However, Mr Baggott said he was prepared to be made “vicariously liable” for the NCA’s actions in Northern Ireland: “This will not wait another year, or two years. Organised crime is like a parasite, it becomes more and more attached.”
Border and customs
Confusingly, the NCA will be able to carry out its border and customs functions in Northern Ireland, even though it is not accountable to local politicians. However, the NCA has agreed to have no visible role in the North, unless a Stormont agreement is reached, said the chief constable.