Northern Ireland

British government refuses to provide NCA religious breakdown figures on ‘national security’ grounds

Home Office says NCA ‘does not hold this information’ on former RUC and PSNI officers who now work for them

The National Crime Agency said the man was arrested in Portsmouth
NCA migrant crossing arrests The British government has refused to release a breakdown of National Crime Agency staff by religion citing "national security". (Aaron Chown/PA)

The British government has refused to provide a breakdown by religion of National Crime Agency staff based in the north on “intelligence and national security” grounds.

The unusual response was issued by Home Office minister Tom Tugendhat to a parliamentary question by south Belfast MP Claire Hanna.

To ensure fair employment in the north the law places five key duties on employers, including an obligation to monitor “the religious composition of the workforce and applicants for posts” and return this annually to the Equality Commission.

It in turn is responsible for enforcing the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, which is intended to tackle unlawful discrimination.

Policing in the north has been focus of intense scrutiny in the past, with the overwhelming majority of officers traditionally coming from a Protestant and unionist tradition.

Up to date statistics on the PSNI’s religious composition are freely available on its website.

Despite this, the British government claims it cannot release figures linked to the NCA due to “national security”.

Although set up in Britain in 2013, the NCA’s powers were not extended to the north for another two years because of nationalist concerns over its accountability.

At the time former PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said agreements were in place to ensure the agency could only mount operations in the north with the approval of the PSNI.

It currently shares a frontline role in tackling various organised crime and is one of several agencies involved in the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, which regularly targets loyalist and some republican groups.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
SDLP MP Claire Hanna

Ms Hanna had asked the Home Office if will publish “breakdown by religion of National Crime Agency (a) officers and (b) civilian staff based in Northern Ireland”.

In response, Home Office minister Tom Tugendhat said: “It is the policy of successive UK governments not to comment on matters of intelligence and national security, this includes information relating to the NCA’s workforce in Northern Ireland”.

Ms Hanna also asked how many NCA officers and civilian staff based in the north are former RUC, PSNI officers and civilian workers.

In response Mr Tugendhat said the NCA “does not hold this information”.

A spokesman for the NCA said: “Like other UK government agencies, the NCA supply information on staffing via the Cabinet Office to the Equality Commission to fulfil our obligation under the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order.”

A spokesman also said it doesn’t “have officers and civilians like policing, everyone who works for the NCA is an officer”.

A spokeswoman for the Equality Commission said it “has not been provided with and nor does it hold any information relating to NCA staffing”.

“The Commission does not receive an annual fair employment return specifically from the NCA,” she said.

“This is because annual fair employment returns are required from specified public authorities and the NCA is not specified.

“The NCA workforce is included in the Minister for the Civil Service return.

“This is because although the NCA is not specified, the NCA workforce includes UK civil servants working wholly or mainly in NI.”

The Cabinet Office declined to comment when asked if it submits an annual monitoring return on staffing to the Equality Commission on behalf of the NCA and if this includes a breakdown by religion of NCA officer and civilian staff.