Wednesday 12 December 2018

Leo Varadkar admits there is no contingency plan for policing border in case of no deal Brexit

Leo Varadkar (Michelle Devane/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Michelle Devane/PA)
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted that the Government is not making any 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 Britain leaves the EU without a deal, he said garda numbers were rising by an extra 600, compared to a year ago, and 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 thats why we put so much work into negotiating a withdrawal agreement for Westminster in the next couple of weeks," the Taoiseach 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 gardai 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 during his first visit to the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, where he saw 199 recruit gardai 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 gardai 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 comissioner 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.

Asked should there be contingency plans to deal with crime in a hard Border scenario, he said the PSNI and the Garda were speaking to each other on a regular basis on the best ways to ensure there was a very high degree of co-operation, north-south, and that people who committed crimes on either side of the Border were brought to justice.

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 earlier this week that they must receive assurances they would have financial resources to patrol the Border.

A failure to pay for extra recruits would force the redeployment of hundreds of policemen and women away from cities and towns to cover Border crossings, federation president, Mark Lindsay said.

The president of the Garda Superintendents Association, Noel Cunningham has already signalled the problems the Garda would face with a hard Brexit when he pointed out that the garda numbers in the Border region during the Troubles were at least three times the current levels.

And if the additional policing requirements created by a hard Brexit had to be met from current strength levels, it would mean denuding the big urban centres and other divisions of personnel.

He pointed out that in the Monaghan district, there were 26 Border crossings open during the Troubles. Now there were 160 roads open.

As a result of the peace process, the number of open Border crossings had at least quadrupled, Supt Cunningham said, adding that these created corridors for criminals to travel.

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