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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 8

Adjournment Debate. - Border Check-Points.

Deputy Paddy Harte gave me notice of his intention to raise the matter as to the delay caused to the County Donegal football team supporters at the Aughnacloy British Army Border check-point on Sunday, 9 May 1993, on their return from the national league final, which caused inconvenience and resentment to many people; and the need for better arrangements to be made at all check-points on occasions such as the one in question.

I thank you for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. Better planning with more emphasis on public relations by the British Army and the RUC would achieve much and there would have been less resentment on the part of football supporters returning from the league final. I should explain that Aughnacloy takes all the Donegal supporters north, west and east and, therefore, over half of the Donegal supporters attending Croke Park would have gone through Aughnacloy. Aughnacloy is a big and well developed check-point. There is no reason extra army and RUC officers could not have been on duty, bearing in mind that security will always be a problem so long as the IRA is a threat. Had extra personnel been on duty there would have been no unnecessary delays.

I should like to put on record that the Army personnel and the RUC officers with whom I came in contact were mannerly and polite and understood the anger being expressed by supporters because of the four miles tailback on the Monaghan road. This was totally unnecessary. This was the first time British Army soldiers saw supporters — not IRA supporters but ordinary law abiding people — carrying the Donegal colours of green and gold. In many cases people were carrying green, white and orange flags. I think it came as a shock to the British soldiers to see motorists going through displaying these colours who were not aggressive or hostile but were merely football supporters with no interest other than to support their team on the day of the national league final. That is getting a message across which is not reciprocated by the British authorities. They could easily overcome the traffic difficulty by providing better arrangements and they should know well in advance that matches are taking place.

I cross the Border at Strabane and Aughnacloy every time I travel to Dublin and there is never much difficulty or delay at Strabane. The arrangements there are such that there is no excessive delay but the same cannot be said about Aughnacloy. While there have been improvements at Aughnacloy the position is still far from normal. I would ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, to take up the matter with the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland because we have now reached the stage where such things should not cause offence to people crossing the Border.

Donegal supporters have also to cross the Boyne bridge at Slane where there are traffic lights. This is a long narrow bridge and no special arrangements are made for switching the lights from red to green. A half dozen cars approaching Dublin are given the same time to cross the bridge as 600 cars going in the opposite direction. The authorities in the Republic have a lesson to learn also. On occasions such as this, the Garda Siochána should make arrangements at the Slane bridge to facilitate large numbers of motorists.

I travel twice and sometimes three times a week on the Dublin-Donegal road and I seldom see a Garda patrol car but there were two Garda patrol cars checking the Donegal supporters going through County Monaghan on that Sunday morning. I put it to the House that if there had been two RUC cars stopping the Donegal supporters in County Tyrone a very different view would have been taken of it. I was stopped for a minor violation of traffic rules but nothing that warranted a patrol car pulling me in. I am asking that better arrangements be put in place at the Border check-point. Perhaps the Minister would take note of the fact that the Garda Síochána also have a lesson to learn. It is not helpful to see 40 to 60 cars in a convoy heading in the direction of Dublin on such a celebratory occasion and Garda patrol cars checking them out. On a return journey of 400 miles it is not pleasant to have to wait an hour to get through the British Army check-point. The matter will have to be dealt with in a more civilised way.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, has asked me to reply to this debate. I am grateful to the Deputy for bringing this matter to my attention. I understand there were substantial delays to traffic travelling through the British army check-point at Aughnacloy on 9 May which affected many of the Donegal supporters travelling back to the county following the national football league final replay in Dublin. I appreciate these delays were a cause of disruption and inconvenience to large numbers who were travelling on this route on the date in question.

On being informed of this delay the matter was immediately raised with the British authorities through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat in Belfast. In the response which we have now received the British side have expressed regret for the inconvenience caused to the travelling public by the delays at Aughnacloy to which the Deputy has drawn attention. They have indicated that on occasions, such as apparently occurred for a period on Sunday evening, when there is a heightened threat to security forces it may be necessary to carry out more rigorous checks than is normally the case. I can assure the Deputy that matters relevant to the operation of vehicle check-points have been raised on numerous occasions with the British authorities within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Conference. The Government has stressed the necessity to keep under review the need for such installations and to consider what alternatives might be provided which might be equally or more effective from a security viewpoint. Where the British authorities decide that permanent check-points are unavoidable we have stressed they should be operated with the minimum possible disruption to the travelling public.

The Government has also emphasised to the British authorities that on occasions such as the recent league final when it is known that large volumes of traffic will be travelling through the check-points they should ensure that appropriate measures are taken to avoid unnecessary delays and disruption. We have also stressed that where delays do occur it is important that the motorists concerned be informed promptly of the reason for the delay and the likely length of the delay involved.

In this regard it was found, for example, that the arrangements made at the time of last year's All-Ireland final were generally satisfactory. We will continue to urge that appropriate arrangements be made in respect of such future occasions.

While there appears generally to have been some improvement in the movement of vehicles through the check-points in recent months, this incident indicates delays can occur. The Deputy can be assurred that we will continue to press the British authorities to ensure that everything possible is done to keep the disruption to the public to the absolute minimum. I will pass on the Deputy's comments concerning Slane to the Minister for the Environment. In regard to the Garda check-point I do not know whether they were checking if the Donegal supporters had been drowning their sorrows.