Gardai 'will protect new structures for checks near Border'

Top officer warns structures need protection

The Taoiseach confirmed for the first time last week that there will be some sort of checking of goods "near the Border"

Maeve Sheehan

A senior officer has said gardai will have to protect any structures that might be put in place at the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Taoiseach confirmed for the first time last week that there will be some sort of checking of goods "near the Border".

Yesterday the president of the Association of Garda Superintendents, Noel Cunningham, warned that if structures were put in place in the Border region, they could become targets of dissident republicans, and would need to be protected by police on either side of the Border.

Supt Cunningham's association first raised the need for checks on goods in the event of a hard Brexit at its annual conference two years ago.

"One of the things we said is that when you get two separate economies, two separate tax regimes, two separate countries operating, one within the European Union and one outside it, that in itself creates opportunities for criminality because everything essentially becomes contraband, on both sides of the Border, because of different pricing, different tax rates etc," he said.

"I notice now that it has been confirmed by the Taoiseach that some level of checking will have to take place, whether it is at the Border or slightly away from the Border or whatever. And the issue that we discussed from the policing perspective [is that] once you create that level of opportunity you will have people who are involved in criminality who will take advantage of it because there will be money to be made."

He said Brexit "may well create huge opportunities for criminality and that's where our concerns are".

"It goes that if you put structures on the Border, those structures have to be protected."

Supt Cunningham said, "if you put a structure in place and that structure then is subject to or may be subject to attack, or not wanted by certain people in the area", the structure will need protection.

"And the only people who can protect it are the guards on one side and police on the other."

He said a Garda presence at the point of checks on goods, whether at the Border or close to it, would depend on the threat level.

"And that is where our expertise comes in. Our intelligence-gathering expertise and our communications with all of our stakeholders, will inform that decision and determine what's going to happen in relation to it."

Asked if he believed a Garda presence would be required at major Border crossings, he said: "The problem is we don't know. This is the issue. We don't know.

"I have no indication of what level of policing plan is being put in place. And we know there are plans being worked on for quite some time now."

However, he added that the Garda organisation had the capacity to respond quickly to unfolding situations, and to deploy personnel where needed. The force worked continually with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

"The reality of Border policing is that while the main movers and shakers may have accepted the peace process, unfortunately there are many breakaway groups from the republican background. That level of engagement in relation to intelligence gathering has always continued because it is an essential element."

The Garda association has noted a significant increase in ordinary crime along the Border in recent decades, with unpoliced Border crossings creating crime corridors exploited by gangs, including the gangs behind the latest space of ATM thefts in the region.

A no-deal Brexit would provide further opportunities for crime gangs.

Supt Cunningham, who is stationed in Monaghan, said his own district had 106 Border crossings, although many had low volumes of traffic.

He stressed that the prospects for Brexit were still "in limbo".

"Everybody, including myself, wants a situation where you don't have a return to a hard Border, security customs checks, all that type of thing," he said.

"But the reality is that if Brexit occurs - and that is still very much up in the air because you could have a general election in the UK which could change the whole dynamic there - but if it does occur, straight away you have separate customs unions working opposite each other, and that is where the difficulty occurs."

The Taoiseach last week spelled out the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, and confirmed for the first time that it would mean checks of goods and live animals crossing into the Republic, with some checks taking place near the Border. The Government had previously insisted that a hard Border would be avoided.

Sinn Fein has described Border checks - and any hardening of the Border -as "completely unacceptable."