Times have changed and the gangs will now be pursued
Published 14/11/2015 | 02:30
Based on its track record, the decision by Irish and British politicians to recommend the establishment of a cross-border corridor for police from both jurisdictions to chase suspected smugglers is a brave one.
First mooted four decades ago by the British to help them track down wanted republicans, the idea was firmly rejected by the Government and Opposition in Dublin.
It was known then as "hot pursuit", a phrase that quickly became unacceptable in southern political circles.
Those behind the latest concept have been very careful not to use that phrase. But times have changed. Back in the 1970s, the two governments were very wary of each other and there was only limited co-operation between the Garda and the RUC.
The original concept involved British troops crossing the border into another jurisdiction and arresting, and possibly shooting, republican suspects.
Incursions by British patrols, whether or not as a result of 'map-reading errors', provoked huge outrage in the border counties and led to protests by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Even when suspects were arrested by the gardaí, the odds were against them being successfully extradited by the courts to Northern Ireland to face trial for crimes allegedly committed there.
This time, the politicians want a carefully planned and defined corridor that would be used by the Garda and the PSNI to complete an operation to arrest and prosecute suspected racketeers and smugglers.
Co-operation between the two police forces has never been better and key stations on both sides of the border are in daily contact with each other and hold regular meetings to discuss intelligence on suspected terrorists and criminals.
Gangs not under the control of former provisionals pay a tithe or levy to the dissidents to allow them to operate, particularly in the border area, and a percentage of this goes towards funding a central unit of hardline republicans.
International criminal networks from Poland and the Ukraine are also heavily involved in smuggling, with cigarettes coming from countries like China, Belarus, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Most of the cigarettes are 'illicit whites', which are made in backstreet factories for smuggling into high-tax jurisdictions, such as Ireland.
A proposal to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly for a cross-border task force was unanimously accepted last February and has since become official policy in Dublin.
But the latest plan, due to be determined by the body at a meeting next week, will be a stronger test for the policy of close co-operation in the fight against terrorism.