Northern Ireland

Analysis: Culture of silence prevails at National Crime Agency

Crime fighting agency refuses to release details of its operations in north

Connla Young

Connla Young has been the Security Correspondent with the Irish News since 2021.

National Crime Agency sign
National Crime Agency sign Few details are known about the working o the NCA

Since it became fully operational in the north in 2015, the National Crime Agency has been involved in numerous well-publicised stings to combat organised crime.

However, despite its high profile, much of its work is shrouded in secrecy, resulting in a refusal to make even the most mundane information public.

The culture of silence appears to extend to good practice policies adopted by the majority of public bodies in our post-conflict society, which includes a troubled past aggravated by sectarian division.

Policing in the north remains a contentious topic, dominated by debate around fairness and community representation.

The RUC was overwhelmingly Protestant leading to the newly formed PSNI operating 50:50 recruitment until 2011, when Catholic representation in the force stood at 30%.

Perception matters in this part of the world, yet 25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the NCA has the appearance of being a glaring outlier when it comes to openness and transparency.

The agency does not provide a breakdown by religion of its staff based in the north – a lawful requirement observed by most public bodies, including the PSNI, which the NCA works closely with.

The Home Office minister has also refused to provide the monitoring figures citing “intelligence and national security”.

Significantly, the Home Office also claims it does not hold information on how many NCA staff members are former members of the RUC and PSNI.

The lack of information doesn’t stop there.

The agency even refuses to confirm how many officers and civilian staff are based in the north claiming that “for operational and security reasons” it is unable to “disclose the exact number”.

The crime fighting body has also refused to directly respond when asked if it has dedicated premises in the north for staff, saying “officers based in Belfast are not limited to NI activity”.

NCA chiefs don’t even accept that it employs civilian staff, claiming “everyone who works for the NCA is an officer”.

While the NCA is heavily engaged in various aspects of policing in the north, oversight appears to be limited.

It currently presents two reports a year to the Policing Board, which tie in with the attendance of its Director General.

However, there is no statutory requirement for the board to monitor NCA staff representation.