Saturday 20 July 2019

Border plan to focus on intelligence-led policing and patrols

The investigation into the brutal murder of a young man in 2007 is just one of the cases over which Brexit casts a shadow, writes Maeve Sheehan

A PSNI checkpoint in 'bandit country' in the mid 2000s.
A PSNI checkpoint in 'bandit country' in the mid 2000s.
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Last month, detectives from the serious crime review team drove from the Republic across the Border to the Quinn family home deep in the what was known as 'bandit country' in south Armagh.

They were there to update the family on the progress of their 'cold case' investigation into one of the most savage cross-Border crimes of recent times - the murder of Paul Quinn (21), who was beaten to death by a suspected IRA mob of at least 10 men in 2007.

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Paul was attacked in Co Monaghan. Some of his suspected killers live in the Northern Ireland jurisdiction of South Armagh. The investigation has been a model of close police cooperation, with coordinated arrests on both sides of the Border.

After more than a decade of omerta among IRA suspects and their network of sympathisers, Paul's murder remains unsolved.

A cold case review by gardai has been under way for more than a year.

When detectives with the review team next return to the Quinn homestead in Cullyhanna to brief the Quinn family on their findings, who knows what the Border landscape they so freely crossed last month will be like.

Senior Garda sources will tell you that the case of Paul Quinn is just one of myriad security issues over which Brexit uncertainty has cast its shadow.

The investigation into the young man's murder will continue, as will the Garda's longstanding cooperation with police in Northern Ireland, one senior source said.

In recent weeks, Garda Headquarters has upped the ante in assessing the potential fallout from Brexit. A team of senior officers is now meeting weekly, assessing the appropriate security response to the various Brexit scenarios, including the worst-case of a no-deal, no-backstop exit that raises the prospect of customs checks along almost 500km of the Border.

The notable threats are from crime gangs involved in smuggling and, perhaps more worryingly, from dissident republicans who, as Garda Commissioner Drew Harris pointed out last year, may exploit the Border for their own ends.

The last official count recorded 208 crossings into Northern Ireland. An Army mapping exercise has identified formerly uncounted crossings, mostly lanes and byways, bringing the total to close to 300.

Many were closed during the Troubles. In Monaghan, for instance, 26 roads to the North were open during the Troubles. Now there are 102.

No one wants a return to closing roads, Garda sources say. And while the details of the Garda's plans for the worst-case Brexit scenario remain confidential, they are likely to include provision for the deployment of more patrols in Border regions, and more resources to engage in the kind of intelligence-led policing that has been used to such effect against Dublin's feuding gangs.

"The Border is open for business and there are no plans to close it. There is police-to-police cooperation that exists and Brexit will not change that," said a senior source.

"It certainly will require additional resources. Part of the peace dividend has been a reduction of policing but there would be an expectation that more resourcing occurs."

The Government has rather unconvincingly denied that it has any plans for customs checks. Even in a worst-case scenario Brexit, gardai believe customs checks are not their bag - "a civil matter" for Revenue, said one source.

Were customs posts to become a target, however, that would change.

The Sunday Independent has established from security sources that concerns have been raised about dissident republican activity and at a very high level.

"Dissidents are a threat but they are a threat that we dealt with all along. Whether the presence of a Border will enhance their numbers or not, I don't know. There is a certain cohort that is always going to be involved," said one senior source.

"Policing the Border will be about prevention and detection. We will still have our interaction with the PSNI. We will still have to deal with the cross-Border criminal who is going to come down here and carry out burglaries in the South and then burglaries in the North."

Sunday Independent

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