Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions (8)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

8. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the engagement he has had with the Garda Commissioner on the funding and provision of additional resources for An Garda Síochána to prepare for a hard Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29637/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

There are less than nine months to the date when the United Kingdom is to depart from the European Union on 29 March next year. The June summit has been held. We were told that the deadline was that summit and that a deal would be organised at that time, but it did not happen. As there is, unfortunately, the prospect of a hard border and the United Kingdom simply falling out of the European Union without a deal, what measures have been put in place to ensure additional resources will be provided for An Garda Síochána should there be a hard border?

As the House is aware, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is co-ordinating the whole-of-government response to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. In this capacity, he is working closely with all Ministers, including me, to address the many challenges Brexit will present in a joined-up manner. However, I emphasise that it is the Government’s firm intention that the same Border arrangements as currently apply on the island of Ireland will continue into the future. In its approach to the negotiations the Government has ensured protecting the gains of the peace process and the avoidance of a hard border are high priorities for Ireland, our partner member states and the European Commission.

As the House is aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel. Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under active review in line with operational and security demands, including possible policing requirements post-Brexit. In that respect, I recently met the Garda Commissioner and his team to discuss contingency planning for Brexit and I am assured An Garda Síochána is preparing for it with a wide-ranging focus to determine operational requirements, including personnel and technology. I am also assured An Garda Síochána will continue to progress its contingency preparations and is committed to ensuring the organisation will be prepared for the associated policing implications and challenges arising therefrom.

My Department is engaged on an ongoing basis with An Garda Síochána as part of the deep and detailed work being undertaken across government and the public sector in response to the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. In June departmental officials and a member of An Garda Síochána met representatives of the European Commission in Brussels to discuss North-South co-operation in the areas of law enforcement and police and judicial co-operation. Furthermore, An Garda Síochána is represented at a senior level in the ongoing discussions between my Department and the Home Office in the United Kingdom on the operation of the common travel area.

Fianna Fáil also wishes for the same Border arrangements to apply after Brexit, but there is unquestionably a risk that that may not be the case. If there is no deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, the island of Ireland could become the meat in that dangerous sandwich. It would not be the first time the interests of this island had been subordinated by the interests of our larger neighbour and other global affairs. We must be prepared for the potential for a hard border on the island after 29 March.

The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, Mr. George Hamilton, has indicated that the service may need approximately 400 extra PSNI officers to police the Border if a hard border is imposed. We know that there are nearly 250 Border crossings between the two jurisdictions on the island.

We need to be prepared for a hard border. No matter the fact that the agreement within this House is that we do not want a hard border, it could be imposed upon us. It should not be forgotten that the Border was put in place without most of the people on this island having any say in respect of it

I reiterate that it is the firm commitment and determination of the Government to ensure that the current border arrangements continue. In this regard, I acknowledge the repeated statements of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in regard to the current border arrangements, a seamless border, maintaining the freedom of movement of goods and people between North and South on the island of Ireland and maintenance of that relationship as it stands.

On An Garda Síochána, it works closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in combating cross-Border crime, including in the pursuit of individual criminal investigations. This ongoing close co-operation across a full range of policing responsibilities of both services is in place and will continue regardless of the final shape of Brexit. Joint working is central to the shared objectives of An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in combating crime of all sorts and promoting community safety on the island of Ireland. There are many collaborative policing initiatives in place, including the cross-Border policing strategy, updated and published by both police services in 2016. There is annual official engagement and informal engagement on a daily basis, where required.

The British Prime Minister has made many positive statements about keeping the Irish Border fully open. However, her statements cannot be relied upon for the purpose of us believing there will be no hard border. The situation within the British Government at the moment is such that it does not know what its own negotiating policy will be with the European Union and we are less nine months away from the Brexit date. We need to be better prepared. We need to take on board, for instance, what the Garda Representative Association stated in respect of the increased demand on An Garda Síochána should there be a hard border. It has indicated that approximately 100 additional gardaí would be required to police the Border, if it is the case that a hard border is imposed upon us.

The new Garda Commissioner has significant knowledge of the two jurisdictions and the Border but the Minister needs to meet him and plan for what we hope will not happen. Unless we are prepared for it, we will fail in respect of it.

I can confirm that I have already met the Garda Commissioner designate and I look forward to working closely with him. I understand that he will take up his position in early September. I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan that be brings a unique perspective on the matter of policing across the island of Ireland. I look forward to working closely with him in this regard.

There is contingency planning in the Department of Justice and Equality. A working group of senior officials was established to manage the Department's response to Brexit and to carry out a risk analysis of the UK's departure, taking into account the views of the relevant justice sector agencies and other stakeholders. Planning to date in the Department has focused on how the withdrawal agreement would work in practice and our future relationship with the UK.

Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned the Garda Síochána. I assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána is fully aware of the ongoing complex negotiations regarding Brexit and it is committed to ensuring that the organisation is fully prepared for any possible policing implications and challenges arising therefrom. A high level team composed of managers from across the Garda Síochána has been established and scoping exercises in anticipation of Brexit have been conducted. I again welcome the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris, who has the necessary experience and expertise in terms of ensuring top level North-South co-operation in addressing the challenges that lie ahead in policing matters.

Question No. 9 replied to with written answers.