PSNI: “if the NCA is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, this will have a detrimental impact on our ability to keep people safe”

With continued political deadlock here over the new UK National Crime Agency (NCA) the PSNI have issued a statement warning of potential problems ahead, and proposing a suggested solution to complaints about accountability.  From the PSNI statement

Criminality has no respect for boundaries. It is therefore vitally important that the PSNI can access both the international reach which the NCA will provide and the ability to draw down on the expertise that the agency will offer. This expertise will include: specialist support on human trafficking, child abuse, the analysis and movement of drugs and civil recovery of criminal assets.

It is the PSNI view that if the NCA is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, this will have a detrimental impact on our ability to keep people safe. The precise extent of this impact is difficult to quantify at this stage but it will definitely have an adverse impact on PSNI performance in combating serious and organised crime. Organised crime is an international problem and Northern Ireland is a target for international crime groups.

At the same time, we are acutely aware that the confidence and consent of the whole community are essential to the delivery of policing. We recognise that agreed accountability plays a central role in achieving this.

Northern Ireland is in a unique position. Major aspects of policing and justice have been devolved here and the accountability arrangements are rightly a matter for local and central Government to determine.

It remains our view that the NCA should only work in Northern Ireland alongside the PSNI, so that operational control ultimately remains with the Chief Constable and nothing proceeds without agreement. There must be complete transparency for PSNI of the NCA’s intelligence, investigations and operational activity. Through such arrangements, the Chief Constable can be held accountable for NCA operations via the Policing Board. [added emphasis]

PSNI will continue to strive to ensure such a situation can be achieved through binding agreement, whether through legislation or other suitable mechanisms. The detail of this is, rightly, not for the PSNI but for others to decide. However, the repercussions of failing to reach agreement will have an adverse impact on community safety in Northern Ireland in terms of PSNI’s ability to combat serious and organised crime.

Northern Ireland’s exclusion from the provisions of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is set out in Schedule 24.  The civil recovery provisions are detailed in Schedule 25.

The difficulty for those claiming to seek to re-route accountability for the National Crime Agency through the Northern Ireland Policing Board lies in the difference between a regional police service, the PSNI, and a national UK-wide agency, the NCA.

The Chief Constable, on behalf of the PSNI, is directly accountable to the NI Policing Board, on behalf of the NI Assembly, because he is appointed by that Board under the authority of the NI Assembly [subject to the approval of the Secretary of State – Ed] – see the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 for more details.

The Director General, on behalf of the NCA, is directly accountable to the UK Home Secretary, on behalf of the UK Parliament, because he is appointed by that Home Secretary under the authority of the UK Parliament [after consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the NI Department of Justice – Ed] –  see the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for more details.  The Home Secretary, in turn, is accountable to the national, sovereign, UK parliament.

Placing accountability for a national UK-wide agency, dealing with reserved or excepted matters, at a level lower than that of the national Parliament risks undermining the operation of that agency.  Like Soca…, or MI5… 

Briefings, and consultations, are a different matter.  As I noted on Slugger previously

NCA annual plan and annual report

9. As part of the NCA’s commitment to openness and transparency, the Director General will publish an annual plan at the beginning of each financial year, setting out the NCA’s programme for that year and how the NCA plans to deliver against the Secretary of State’s strategic priorities and the Director General’s operational priorities. The Director General will issue the NCA’s Annual Plan in consultation with the NCA’s strategic partners, such as policing bodies across the UK, including Police and Crime Commissioners, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Serious Fraud Office.

10. The annual plan will be agreed with Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland in so far as it relates to activities in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The Home Secretary must approve the annual plan before it is issued.

11. In order to account to the public and Parliament for the NCA’s activity over the year, the Director General will publish the NCA annual report at the end of each financial year. The report will include a detailed assessment of how the NCA has delivered against its annual plan. It will be laid before the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. [added emphasis]

And, as with Soca, the Police Ombudsman would continue to have a role in dealing with complaints about NCA officers.

[But “the British Government, and the British State, no longer claim jurisdiction over this part of the island“!? – Ed]  Indeed…

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  • Ruarai

    Funny how the DUP and friends make a song and dance about not extending the much needed libel legislation to Belfast yet when it comes to this issue – the ability of (locally unaccountable) spooks to play favourites and play God – its a free-for-all.

    At some point unionists will come to realize the extent to which fellow-unionists also fell victim to this shower. You’d think they’d show a little more interest in addressing that question prior to offering another liscence to kill.

  • Ruarai

    Placing accountability for a national UK-wide agency, dealing with reserved or excepted matters, at a level lower than that of the national Parliament risks undermining the operation of that agency

    That’s right – and the whole point. Checking the ability of such an operation to run unchecked is as much a goal as any other.

    As ample reports, investigations and whistle-blowers have abundantly revealed, its precisely because of the nature of the operations that such a locally unaccountable outfit would likely run, as even the most blinkered person must now appreciate, that an unchecked smooth operation is unacceptable.

  • michael-mcivor

    PSNI leaders are now saying that they are not good enough to do the job that people pay them to do-perhaps they should take early retirement and let others who are fit to do the work-to many speeches makes them not good enough at policing-talkers dont police-they preach-

  • BluesJazz

    The Secretary of State and the Home Office could simply upgrade MI5 to deal with a lot of police work here, alongside the Special Reconnaisance Regiment.
    Downgrade the PSNI to traffic and public order duties maybe with local burglaries, domestics etc added on.

    Westminster can bypass the Trumpton assembly as it pleases, so can the Security Service and the MoD.

  • Comrade Stalin

    the ability of (locally unaccountable) spooks

    Firstly, a compromise could almost certainly have been found to make them locally accountable.

    Secondly, what are you talking about ? They’d be as accountable in Belfast as they would in Manchester or Birmingham.

  • Pete Baker

    Ruarai

    “when it comes to this issue – the ability of (locally unaccountable) spooks to play favourites and play God”

    MI5 are completely unaffected by this particular issue. But they said to say ‘Hello!’ 😉

    And, as I pointed out in a previous post, it’s linked twice above, the body that the NCA needs to be compared with, in terms of the powers to be available to it here, is the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

    And they’ve been operating here for a number of years without incident. Apart from when they’ve targeted the ‘wrong’ person, according to some…

    There are difference in oversight between the two agencies, and any serious criticism would focus on those.

    But the oversight in both cases is at national level.

  • Morpheus

    I don’t see the problem here. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have said that the issues with the NCA concern accountability and transparency in policing. As we know its head will be directly accountable to the Home Secretary for the agency’s actions – not to the chief constable of the PSNI, the Policing Board or the Police Ombudsman

    NCA officers will have
    – the powers of a police constable in Northern Ireland;
    – the authority to carry out searches and make arrests;
    – the ability to conduct surveillance operations;
    – the ability to recruit and run informers and agents

    All without the accountability to the Police Ombudsman! I have to ask, what is their issue about being accountable to the Police Ombudsman?

    Do we need to start highlighting the collusion cases again to show we should not have organisations that work in the shadows? If it takes the NCA to take down the serious criminals then make them accountable to the Police Ombudsman to ensure accountability and transparency in policing and crack on from there.

    http://www.sdlp.ie/index.php/the_issues/justice_policing/
    http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/25527

  • sherdy

    Sounds to me like the PSNI are afraid of being kept out of the loop.
    ‘Let our Chief Con in on the details and then he will report to us annually’.
    So if something happens on April 1, we may be given a sanitised version the following March 31.
    As for finding agreement, when accountability was mentioned, NCA answered ‘forget it’ – that’s some negotiation.

  • Pete Baker

    Morpheus

    The NCA is to be accountable to the NI Police Ombudsman in the same way that Soca was.

  • Ruarai

    Comrade,

    Firstly, a compromise could almost certainly have been found to make them locally accountable.

    And hopefully it still can be.

    Secondly, what are you talking about ?

    To paraphrase Morpheus above: You shouldn’t have to ask Comrade. Read the rap sheet then try with a straight face to justify under any circumstances spooks operating unaccountably in Ireland. Now, granted, PSNI reforms still left chasm-wide gaps that enabled precisely that – one of the reasons SOCA wasn’t kosher either – but just because some horses have bolted that’s reason to work to getting them restrained, not sigh as the whole damn barn let’s rip.

    They’d be as accountable in Belfast as they would in Manchester or Birmingham.

    Not sure what you think that’s got to do with the price of butter. My primary interest is in security arrangments in Ireland. The good people of Manchester or Birmingham have had a slightly different relationship with the Crown, I think you can agree.

  • socaire

    Your problem,Pete, is what does ‘national’ mean?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Read the rap sheet then try with a straight face to justify under any circumstances spooks operating unaccountably in Ireland.

    Locally accountable police are running agents in the paramilitaries right now. What’s the difference ?

    Not sure what you think that’s got to do with the price of butter. My primary interest is in security arrangments in Ireland. The good people of Manchester or Birmingham have had a slightly different relationship with the Crown, I think you can agree.

    What’s different about it ?

  • Morpheus

    Pete

    Has there been a definitive announcement that the NCA will be accountable to the Chief Constable, Police Board and Police Ombudsman since this yesterday:

    “Police insisted appropriate oversight could be achieved if overall responsibility for all operations involving the NCA rested with Mr Baggott – who as PSNI chief constable is accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/concerns-over-ukwide-police-delays-29266543.html

    I have read the PSNI statement above, there is nothing definitive there either. They say that NCA should only work in Northern Ireland alongside the PSNI, so that operational control ultimately remains with the Chief Constable and nothing proceeds without agreement.

    It does not say that the NCA will be accountable to the Chief Constable, Police Board and Police Ombudsman.

    I am all for the NCA if they are accountable, anything to get rid of these criminals.

  • Pete Baker

    Morpheus

    You mis-understand.

    The PSNI’s suggested solution is to make the Chief Constable accountable to the NI Policing Board for NCA operations here. If he is given access to the NCA’s intelligence, investigations and operational activity.

    That’s as good a compromise as it’s likely to get.

    He has no role in the agency itself. Neither do the NI Policing Board, btw. Which is why the NCA are not accountable to that body.

    The PSNI Chief Constable is, however, accountable to the NI Policing Board – because they appoint him, and have a role in funding and maintaining the PSNI, through legislation.

    And the NCA, similarly, is accountable to the national Parliament.

    Accountability is more than the ability to ask questions…

    However, like Soca, the legislation for the NCA does envisage accountability for operations via the NI Police Ombudsman.

  • tacapall

    Pete if is not the same as will and accepting any government body that is not accountable to the people it supposedly protects is not a compromise worth accepting if unaccountability means cases like this –

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10022789/The-opposition-to-secret-courts-is-gathering-pace.html

    Society is being conditioned to accept secret evidence being used in courts, having the power to convict a person without legal representation in secret closed courts, closed inquests and the ability to disappear people without public knowledge.

    Summary of the Justice and Security Act 2013

    “A bill to provide for oversight of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and other activities relating to intelligence or security matters; to provide for closed material procedure in relation to certain civil proceedings; to prevent the making of certain court orders for the disclosure of sensitive information; and for connected purposes”

    Should we expect a cull of Irish people soon.

  • BluesJazz

    The PSNI are essentially, glorified traffic wardens and speeding ticket collectors. That’s about 98% of their role.
    There are some anti social behaviour classes in schools and investigate the rare aggravated assaults, rapes and burglaries. Nice work if you can get it at premium salaries. (£40k plus overtime a go-go). I’m not sure if they also have the added burden of dog fouling.

    National security is the job of Palace Barracks (‘Regnum Defende’) and anti terrorism is also so placed -along with Ballykinler and Thiepval barracks.

    The NCA can be placed in the big boys role in the latter category.

  • tacapall

    Well Bluesjazz some people will be saying bring it on, let the show begin, the more British forces on the ground in Ireland the more likely history will repeat itself and casualties will occur. This move sounds like another British military occupation of Ireland by other means.

  • BluesJazz

    tacapall
    MI5 have their second home here. Back up HQ in monocultural Holywood. With 2 Mercian to guard the gates.
    Ballykinler is bursting with operational training for the G8 with its special forces training range.

    Apart from that the same ‘peacetime’ garrison as 1964.
    Hardly an ‘occupation’. British troops on err.. British soil.

    MI5 have different considerations regarding their ‘back up’ HQ in non muslim territory.

    i’m guessing the RoI government couldn’t care less, but since they’re governed from Berlin what does it matter?

  • tacapall

    So we can expect an upsurge in this type of activity then –

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10060817/Officials-turned-blind-eye-to-Pat-Finucane-killing.html

    “Senior British government officials turned a blind eye to a campaign of state-backed killings by Loyalist paramilitaries and the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the Northern Ireland troubles, a senior Downing Street security adviser has admitted”

    And we’re expected to accept the word of the British prime minister that the NCA will be accountable to the people.

  • Ruarai

    Comrade,

    (Ruarai) Read the rap sheet then try with a straight face to justify under any circumstances spooks operating unaccountably in Ireland.

    (Comrade) Locally accountable police are running agents in the paramilitaries right now. What’s the difference ?

    You just said it: local accountability. The issue has never been with the principle of intelligence gathering, but with who is doing it, for whom and what purpose and what accountabilty is in place. You must known this.

    (Ruarai) Not sure what you think that’s got to do with the price of butter. My primary interest is in security arrangments in Ireland. The good people of Manchester or Birmingham have had a slightly different relationship with the Crown, I think you can agree.

    (Comrade)What’s different about it ?

    We’ve nicer accents. Don’t ask stupid questions Comrade, you’re way smarter than that.

  • Morpheus

    Pete

    The PSNI’s suggested solution is to make the Chief Constable accountable to the NI Policing Board for NCA operations here. If he is given access to the NCA’s intelligence, investigations and operational activity. That’s as good a compromise as it’s likely to get. He has no role in the agency itself. Neither do the NI Policing Board, btw. Which is why the NCA are not accountable to that body.”

    Personally I don’t find that acceptable. ‘Given access to’ and ‘no role in the agency itself’ does not scream to me that the PSNI will play a leading role in this at all. It says to me that they will be given what the NCA wants them to see when NCA wants them to see it. It sounds to me like Special Branch all over again.

    A lot of people worked very hard to ensure that we have a police force which is acceptable to both communities and that is because people trust it due to it’s accountability and transparency mechanisms. For any organisation to be working here outside those mechanisms is unacceptable to me.

    I don’t see what the issue is with NCA being accountable to the PSNI, Policing Board and Police Ombudsman, especially if these guys have power to arrest and run agents in Northern Ireland. They could still do what they are paid to do but mechanisms will be in place to ensure that they are accountable for their actions to the people who matter – us.

    This is all about us and keeping us safe, right?

  • Dec

    From the BBC report:

    Jim Gamble, a former head of the RUC’s Special Branch, said accountability was “critical”.

    “It is a key issue if you are going to have public confidence. We cannot afford to have the Policing Board sidelined or blindsided to what is going on,” he said.

    Mr Gamble, who is also the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency, said: “You cannot create two-tier policing.

    “You cannot have one set of rules for the PSNI and one set of rules for the NCA. That doesn’t make sense operationally or politically.”

    He added: “People are either badly informed or being mischievious because we are scaremongering and we’re exploiting people’s fears.”

  • sherdy

    How effective is the oversight of the PSNI?
    We have the case of the two men convicted of the killing PSNI officer Stephen Carroll and a couple of days before their appeal is due to commence, their witness is arrested and held for a number of days. Coincidence or the dirty tricks department trying to muddy the waters of the appeal.
    So if the PSNI dirty tricks cannot be kept in check what chance is there of supervising the activities of the NCA?