A new armed police support unit will be moved closer to the border in preparation for Brexit, Ireland’s top police officer has said.
Commissioner Drew Harris was speaking to an Irish Parliament justice committee on Wednesday, when a number of representatives asked about concerns surrounding the UK’s departure from the EU in relation to crime and disorder.
“Overall we are ready, we’ve been, in effect, thinking about this for two years and building up resources in the border area during that time,” Mr Harris said.
“We have a passing out parade in November and that will allow us to further supplement the border counties.
“We’ve built up resources around our armed support unit, at the moment we have about 30 more members trained and ready.
“We’re also looking towards the introduction of an armed support unit in Cavan to reduce response times in the border area, so there’s a lot more to come, but we’re very aware of the Brexit challenges.
“We have increased numbers in the border area, and making further investment in armed support in Cavan through the new operating model we will further enhance policing around the border counties.
“We ourselves are in a high state of planning and prep for October and for what it’ll mean in short and medium term for policing in Ireland.”
Mr Harris refused to be drawn into speculation about possible violence in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which has been forecast by many, including dissident republican groups, if customs or border posts are introduced, as the UK becomes a third country with an EU border.
But he warned about the strains on policing an upsurge in dissident attacks.
“I’m not going to speculate on what border infrastructure is going to be, I’m responsible for providing a policing service to protect society,” he said.
“As yet, I don’t know what Brexit we’re getting, and therefore what will be the ramifications of that.
“There are three various elements, organised crime, threat from dissident republican groups and the impact on local communities.
“Regrettably, in respect of the impact from dissident groups, we’ve already seen this year six national security attacks in Northern Ireland and we ourselves have had to cope with that demand and respond and support the PSNI and conduct our own investigative efforts against these groups.
“There has been an uptick in demand, which has caused strain on the organisation, but we’re prepared for that, and working hard to thwart those threats.”
Undermining the Good Friday Agreement
In July we reported Northern Ireland’s police chief Simon Byrne warning how a hard Brexit scenario could see farmers going bust, animal culls and an upsurge in dissident republican violence, with police officers targeted.
The chief constable’s warning came a day after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar predicted the UK was facing decades of economic decline following Brexit, as the nation struggled to cope with diminishing importance on the world stage.
Speaking on RTE Radio One’s Marian Finucane programme, the Irish premier said: “Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and it is fraying relationships between Britain and Ireland.
“Anything that pulls the two communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.”
Chief Constable Byrne, who assumed office at the start of the month, said he wanted answers from London as to how the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was supposed to police around 300 border crossings in the face of the dissident republican threat that would escalate if there was a disorderly UK exit from the EU.
“I think we are worried that in the short term a hard Brexit will create a vacuum which becomes a rally call and recruiting ground for dissident republicans and clearly any rise in their popularity or their capability would be very serious,” he said.
20,000 cross-border traders at risk
At least 40,000 jobs in Northern Ireland could be at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit such as the next Conservative Party leader contemplates, a report by the Department for the Economy recently warned, which would have a “profound and long-lasting impact on NI’s economy and society”.
Last month it was revealed that just SIX PERCENT of about 20,000 cross-border traders on the island of Ireland are prepared for a no-deal Brexit eventuality.
A substantial proportion of these are micro-businesses, which are particularly vulnerable to changes in current trading arrangements.
The latest research also shows continuity of supply is an additional problem that could hinder cross-border businesses and the ability to trade.