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Saturday 10 December 2016

Cross-border shambles as officers snub exchange plan

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

APATHY: PSNI and Garda officers shake hands at the border but the exchange programme is fizzling out after the murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe
APATHY: PSNI and Garda officers shake hands at the border but the exchange programme is fizzling out after the murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe
Det Gda Adrian Donohoe

Not a single member of the gardai and only two PSNI constables took part in 2014 in the much-vaunted cross-border policing exchange programme set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement, figures reveal.

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Ministers and senior police from both sides of the Border regularly praise the "excellent" co-operation between the two forces.

But new figures show that so far this year only two garda sergeants and two PSNI constables have taken part in exchanges lasting just two weeks each.

Before 2010 police were involved in two-month exchanges with senior officers up to the rank of chief superintendent, in one instance, taking part in the cross-Border exchanges.

In the early years of the post-1998 Agreement and the Patten Commission report on policing some exchanges lasted up to six months.

In the past 10 years, however, only some 170 exchanges have taken place between the two forces which comprise almost 20,000 personnel between them. All the postings have been of two months or less. Since 2010 the two-month postings declined to only one-month exchanges and now they are down to only two weeks per posting.

Sources say the two forces have been unable to 'sell' the exchange programme to rank and file members. One of the major obstacles apparently relates to loss of pension entitlements.

The exchange programme is now moribund with no gardai posted north last year at all.

The lack of enthusiasm for the joint initiative comes in the aftermath of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe in January 2013, by a cross-border gang based in south Armagh.

Gardai were given permission to interview potential witnesses inside Northern Ireland during the investigation but no charges have been brought in the case. Three of the main suspects remain at large in Armagh.

There has also been a worrying escalation in the cross-border smuggling trade, much of it still controlled by the Provisional IRA in south Armagh.

There has also been a marked decline in the number of police stations open on both sides of the Border.

During the Troubles there were some 45 Garda and RUC stations dotted along the Border but most of these have closed or been reduced to part-time opening in the past 17 years.

Local people say the Border area is now 'lawless' and complain that the closure of stations and withdrawal of both police forces facilitates organised crime, much of it still controlled by the IRA.

Figures supplied by the Garda to the Sunday Independent show that since 2005 there have been only 170 exchanges of personnel.

In 2005 the number was only two, one from each side. This rose to 30 in 2010 but again fell to only two last year.

Just under 100 gardai and constables have taken part in the exchanges in the past 10 years, along with 42 sergeants, 14 inspectors, five superintendents and one chief superintendent.

One retired PSNI inspector took up a similar ranking post in the Garda in Dublin and has since been promoted to superintendent.

As well as the lack of personnel exchange between the two forces, the gardai and the PSNI also operate incompatible computerised information systems and radio networks. Gardai say communications between the two forces are now more difficult than they were during the Troubles.

Sunday Independent

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