No contingency plan for policing the Border after hard Brexit - Taoiseach
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted that the Government has no contingency plans for policing the Border in the event of a hard Brexit.
Ruling out proposals to further increase the strength of the Garda force if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, he said Garda numbers were rising by an extra 600 compared to a year ago. He said it was up to the Garda authorities to determine where they should be deployed.
"Obviously, our overriding plan and objective is to avoid a no-deal scenario and that's why we put so much work into negotiating a withdrawal agreement," he said.
The best way to avoid a no-deal Brexit was to have a deal and "we have a deal on the table now", he added.
"We're going to continue to expand the force over the next couple of years and how gardaí are deployed is, of course, a matter for the commissioner.
"But we will take into account any changes that may arise because of Brexit and we also need to make sure we have very close co-operation with the PSNI. That co-operation is as good as it ever has been."
Mr Varadkar added: "We are not making any contingency plans for a hard Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But we do have to have regard for the fact that we could see an increase in smuggling and other illegal cross-border activities."
The Taoiseach made his comments yesterday during his first visit to the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, where he saw 199 new gardaí graduating.
He said the extra personnel were helping people to stay safe and the increase in numbers was allied to a "really good reform programme now under way".
He said: "We are now able to invest more in vehicles and equipment and have new leadership under Commissioner Drew Harris and also a plan from the Commission on the Future of Policing.
"So, I think we are in a good space. We have a Garda force the public can trust and have enormous confidence in. I look forward to the years ahead and working side by side with them."
Asked about the reductions in the overtime budget for the force at a time of rising crime, Mr Varadkar said the plan was to bring up the number of gardaí and increase the civilian strength and that should allow for a reduction in overtime.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said overtime was a challenge but he was very pleased to secure "just under" €100m for Garda overtime in 2019. He said the strength of the force would be 14,000 by the end of the year, reducing the overtime demand. The commissioner would continue to monitor that.
In the context of Brexit, Mr Flanagan said there were always challenges for policing on any border, such as organised crime and smuggling.
In contrast to the stance taken by the Government in Dublin, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has asked the UK Home Office to fund 400 extra officers to allow him to deal with the repercussions of Brexit. And the Police Federation in Northern Ireland warned this week that it must receive assurances it would have financial resources to patrol the Border.