Friday 24 January 2020

Hard Brexit will create crime 'corridors' on border, senior Gardaí warn

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Senior Garda officers will warn the Government today that a hard Brexit will at least quadruple the number of Border crossings and create "corridors" to be exploited by criminal gangs.

They want Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and his Cabinet colleagues to begin planning now to counteract the impact of Brexit in the Border region.

And they say that unless the strength of the Garda force is dramatically increased, vast areas of the country will be denuded of a proper policing service to provide the numbers needed to patrol the Border counties.

The grim warning will be delivered today by the Association of Garda Superintendents at its annual conference in Naas.

Association president Noel Cunningham told the Irish Independent last night: "During the Troubles, the majority of cross-Border roads were closed with only the main roads remaining open.

"But as a result of the peace process, all of the roads are now open, at least quadrupling the number of crossings and that creates these corridors for criminals to travel".

He pointed out that if you travelled the Border from Donegal to Louth, most of the PSNI Border stations that existed during the Troubles were now shut and the current stations were located about ten miles back from the Border.

He said the significant reduction in policing presence in the Border region since the peace process began, created a new challenge with Brexit.

The gardai, Mr Cunningham said, had excellent co-operation with the PSNI at all levels, particularly on the ground, but it was a much reduced policing service on both sides at present and that was a factor that had to be taken into account.

It was vital that early planning and resourcing took place to ensure that a proper policing presence was provided in advance of March, 2019.

Mr Cunningham, who has 37 years experience, mainly in the Border region, pointed out that in the Monaghan district, in an area surrounded on three sides by three Northern counties, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh, there were about 26 Border crossings during the Troubles.

Now there were 160 roads currently open. Some were very minor but could still be traversed.

Garda numbers during the Troubles were at least three times the current levels and if those numbers were to be restored out of the current strength, it would mean denuding the big urban centres and other divisions of garda personnel.

"We would have to strip them of gardai. So we need to think about that during the current recruitment campaign and plan strategically for Brexit".

The additional personnel would need time to develop local connections and get to know the people as well as the geograph, he added.

The real test for policing was how efficient it could be and intelligence based policing was best and that meant making the on the ground connections between the gardai and the community.

Mr Cunningham said he hoped the reaction from the minister, due to address the conference along with Garda Commissioner Donall O Cualain this afternoon, would be positive.

He also called for EU assistance, financial and otherwise, for Ireland to help cope with the fallout from a hard Brexit as the nation would become the only EU member state with a land frontier with a non-EU country on the western side of the EU.

Mr Cunningham will also tell his members today that the Garda force, if properly resources, has the experience and expertise, to continue to be responsible for the security of the State.

The conference will also discuss a pay anomaly that has meant a garda inspector at the top of the pay scale receives €2,500 more a year than a newly promoted superintendent and this is seen as not only a disincentive for promotion but also not reflecting the reality that superintendents haver a lot of extra responsibility and have to be available 24/7.

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