Sunday 22 September 2019

Sixty years of co-operation 'will fall away when UK leaves'

Commissioner Harris wants close ties with PSNI as justice treaties between nations are lost in move

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Niall Carson/PA)
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Niall Carson/PA)
Robin Schiller

Robin Schiller

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris yesterday expressed concerns about a no-deal Brexit's impact on policing agreements between the UK and Ireland.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris yesterday expressed concerns about a no-deal Brexit's impact on policing agreements between the UK and Ireland.

Ireland's most senior officer said 60 years of co-operation between British, Irish and European law enforcement agencies will "fall away".

But Mr Harris pledged that the Garda will continue to ensure Ireland is protected and maintain a good relationship with the PSNI and the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA).

Additional resources have been deployed to the Border region over the past 18 months and Mr Harris said that his officers would ensure that it remained "an area where the rule of law applies".

His comments came as he announced sweeping changes to the way Ireland is policed with a new divisional operational model.

The force will now operate with 19 divisions instead of 28, while the number of Garda regions will reduce from six to four as part of the focus to improve a wide range of policing functions.

"Undoubtedly with Brexit, it is a fact that a lot of the criminal justice treaties that the UK is presently a member of will fall away for the United Kingdom and that is not going to simplify policing," Mr Harris said.

"But we are in constant operational contact with our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and also across the Irish sea to the UK's National Crime Agency.

"Our relationships are good. We are working through what specific issues might be.

"At the same time it is a fact that the UK through Brexit is losing access to a lot of the EU's criminal justice treaties and the investigative provisions that they apply. But we can't avoid that and we have to mitigate that as much as we can in terms of our operational work with the PSNI.

"We want to make sure we're still able to share information.

"If one thinks that the treaty that we will fall back to was written in 1959, so 60 years of improvement is going to fall away in terms of the development of criminal justice co-operation across Europe, so it's not going to be the same.

"We can't make it the same until there is some agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU on co-operation in respect of criminal justice."

Asked if he was worried about this, the Garda chief said: "It is of concern but I think there are a number of elements in respect of this.

"We do police a Border area, we have ensured over the past 18 months that we have built up resources there and we will continue to do so.

"We are dedicated to making sure that that remains an area where the rule of law applies.

"We will be there to keep people safe, we'll be there to deal with smuggling as we are at the moment and organised crime as we are at the moment and indeed the threat from terrorists."

He added the Garda would not "sit idly by" as threats develop.

"The sharing of information, the joint operations, will all carry on; the investigations will all carry on," he said.

"We, and I know the chief constable of the PSNI, are not going to sit idly by and allow a threat to just develop.We will be acting and acting decisively; to conduct investigations, seeking intelligence and following through on that.

"We are not idle bystanders just watching this. People can be assured we will be doing all we can to protect the people of Ireland," he said.

The policing model changes announced yesterday are designed to improve serious crime investigations at a divisional level and free up national units.

This includes more Armed Support Units (ASU) being deployed to regional areas, allowing the highly trained Emergency Response Unit (ERU) to focus on organised crime and national security.

A net increase of 800 gardaí by 2021 is also hoped, with more Garda staff to be brought in for administrative duties to free up front-line members.

The number of administrative units will be reduced significantly from 124 to 19.

Irish Independent

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