Northern Ireland

National Crime Agency urged to publish figures on staff religion

British government has refused to release key stats on ‘intelligence and national security grounds”

The National Crime Agency said the man was arrested in Portsmouth
The National Crime Agency (Aaron Chown/PA)

The National Crime Agency has been urged to “voluntarily collate and publish” a breakdown of staff by religion after the British government refused to reveal the figures on “intelligence and national security grounds”.

SDLP Policing Board member Mark H Durkan recently wrote to the NCAs director general Graeme Biggar to attend a meeting of the watchdog next month.

His intervention comes after Home Office minister Tom Tugendhat refused to provide a breakdown of the religious figures in response to a parliamentary question by south Belfast 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, Mr 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”.

The NCA 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.

Set up in Britain in 2013, the agency’s powers were not extended to the north until 2015 because of nationalist concerns over its accountability.

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.

The commission 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 traditionally been under the microscope, with the overwhelming majority of officers, past and present, coming from a Protestant and unionist tradition.

PSNI figures relating to the religious background of its staff are freely available.

Policing Board member Mark H Durkan.
Policing Board member Mark H Durkan.

In recent correspondence Mr Durkan said he had proposed to raise his concerns at the Policing Board’s June meeting, which the NCA is expected to attend, “but answers and actions are required now”.

He has also requested the NCA “agrees that in relation to its NI staff it should voluntarily collate and publish information on the breakdown of staff by religion” and make a return to the Equality Commission “and as otherwise required comply with NI equality and employment requirements”.

He said the NCA should also commit to attending the board’s May monthly meeting and agree to becoming a “`specified public authority’ for the purposes of full compliance with NI equality legislation and provisions”.

Specified public authorities are automatically registered with the Equality Commission, however, the NCA is not included on the current list.

According to the Equality Commission the power to specify public authorities is a matter for The Executive Office.

In his correspondence, Mr Durkan pointed out the assembly passed a resolution in 2015 after a “two year period of political stalemate in relation to the accountability and oversight of the NCA for the exercise of powers in NI”.

He said that in advance of an assembly vote “accountability arrangements were agreed”.

The SDLP man added that “it is a shocking assertion that a Home Office minister declares that a breakdown by religion of NCA staff based in NI should not be provided on ‘intelligence and national security grounds’”.

“The NCA should be saying to the London government that it does not believe this is neither credible nor consistent with its accountability obligations further to the 2015 agreement.”

The NCA did not respond directly.