NCA wants to meet north's political parties

NCA director general Lynn Owens
Connla Young

THE most senior official in the National Crime Agency (NCA) has invited the north's political parties to a briefing about its work later this year.

Details of the offer were revealed after it emerged that the agency has not officially met with the Policing Board since the fall of the assembly last year.

However a spokesman last night said that NCA officials have had two meetings with senior Policing Board officials, including its chair Anne Connolly.

The agency last night said that its director general Lynn Owens has now invited politicians to meet her later this year.

Under a 2015 memorandum of understanding the NCA director general is supposed to meet Policing Board members twice a year to answer questions about its performance and provide quarterly written reports.

However, given the collapse of the assembly and the fact that no political representatives have been appointed, this has not happened.

Senior officials were given delegated authority to take some decisions but concerns were raised in November after the Department of Justice said the board “cannot exercise any of its functions”.

The NCA, which tackles organised crime, began operating in Britain in 2013 but its powers were not extended to the north until 2015 because of concerns held by nationalists.

The SDLP gave the agency its backing after accountability measures were put in place.

Former Policing Board member Dolores Kelly has said oversight of the NCA is important.

“It was essential in terms of accountability in order to build confidence it was doing what it said on the tin,” she said.

A spokesman for the NCA said the agency “has taken a number of steps to keep the board updated and informed about our work in line with accountability arrangements”.

He said this includes “quarterly performance reports and regular briefings with the chair, vice chair and chief executive of the board”.

"The director general has also extended an invitation to all political parties to a briefing on the work of the NCA in Belfast later this year,” he said.

“Once the board is fully constituted and sits again we look forward to formally briefing them."

The spokesman said that Lynn Owens and former PSNI officer Will Kerr, who now works with the NCA, met Anne Connolly and the board chief executive Amanda Stewart in Belfast last September.

He also said that Ms Connolly, Ms Stewart and board vice chair Deborah Watters attended a meeting with the NCA's deputy director general and other officials in London earlier this month.

The spokesman said that board officials were “briefed on NCA work aligned to the latest Quarterly Performance Report” at both meetings.

However, when asked to about minutes of the meetings the spokesman said: “Minutes have not been published as they were private meetings”.

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