Stand-off over cross-border pursuits resolved
AN historical bone of contention between the British and Irish governments over cross-border hot pursuit of terrorists or criminals was resolved when high-level permission was given to allow the garda helicopter to fly into Northern Ireland.
The helicopter, piloted by an Air Corps officer, was pursuing the garda squad car that was stolen two weeks ago and driven at speed up the M1 to Newry.
The car was taken by a Dublin man, known to gardai, who was reported to be driving dangerously on the evening of December 11. Two gardai found the car and driver at the motorway service station near Balbriggan. The driver was detained and placed in the back of the squad car while two gardai examined the car he had been driving. He jumped into the driver's seat and set off at speed up the motorway.
The gardai alerted colleagues in the Meath and Louth divisions and a high-speed chase ensued with up to 10 cars in pursuit. A decision was taken not to deploy the "stinger" spiked chain device to blow out the car's tyres because of the speed it was travelling at.
As the driver approached the Border, Garda Command and Control in Dublin contacted their counterparts in the PSNI seeking permission for the helicopter to overfly the Border. This was granted and the helicopter followed the car until it was abandoned in Newry. PSNI officers quickly found the car, which was returned to gardai later.
It was the first time a garda helicopter was involved in hot pursuit across the Border and now, according to sources, there must be reciprocal permission for the PSNI if it is sought.
This latest incursion has effectively ended decades of contention over the issue. The then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher demanded that the British Army be allowed to cross the Border in hot pursuit of the IRA after the killing of 18 soldiers in the Warrenpoint bombing, and the killing of Lord Mountbatten and three others on board his boat in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, in August 1979.
However, then Taoiseach Jack Lynch rejected this, saying: "I don't think it is known in any country where soldiers can go into the sovereign territory of another state and carry out military operations. It could well be dangerous for those soldiers or policemen."
This led to a period of poor relations until the Eighties when a diplomacy effort by Charles Haughey eventually reduced tensions with Mrs Thatcher and led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the setting up of a joint British-Irish Secretariat in Belfast. However, the Republic never conceded on the issue of hot pursuit across the Border by either police or soldiers from Northern Ireland.
Gardai are confident of finding the man who stole the garda car. He is from the Donnycarney area of Dublin, 31 years old, and has been before the courts a number of times.