I propose to take Questions Nos. 285 and 370 together.
As the Deputies will appreciate, policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges. These necessitate a collaborative approach to policing with law enforcement agencies north and south of the border and there is close ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.
The importance of this ongoing high level of cooperation has been emphatically demonstrated again in recent times, in particular by the abhorrent attack in Co. Fermanagh in September. I have visited the area and was briefed by the Commissioner and the investigation team. It is clear that elements of that horrific crime took place on both sides of the border and a joint investigation is ongoing, including continuing sharing of information and evidence, between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.
In November 2015, the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the agreement A Fresh Start, The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan, as part of a concerted and enhanced effort to tackle organised and cross jurisdictional crime. These measures included the creation of the Joint Agency Task Force, which is led by senior officers from An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and UK (HM) Revenue and Customs.
Both Governments are determined that, regardless of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland must and will continue to combat the threat posed by dissidents and criminals that seek to exploit the policing challenges posed by the border.
I have spoken recently to the UK Home Secretary and have also met the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I can assure the Deputy that I took these opportunities to reaffirm our deep commitment to continuing the close working relationship that we have with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom on such matters as security and risks in the Border region. The Deputy will also be aware of An Taoiseach's discussions with Prime Minister Johnson, as detailed in his responses to Parliamentary Questions on the matter.
As Deputies may recall, in September, I attended the 17th Annual Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan, aimed at enhancing cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, particularly in relation to cross border organised criminality and related issues. This provided an additional opportunity for all those attending, including the Commissioner, the PSNI Chief Constable and the Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, to discuss issues arising.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner recently made an operational decision to establish an additional Armed Support Unit (ASU) in Cavan which became operational last month. It will complement the work of the Units nationwide, including those in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Northern Region.
I also want to assure the Deputies that An Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government in its ongoing work in addressing cross-border criminality and we are providing record resources to enable it to perform this critical role. The Northern region continues to benefit from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána as part of the Government’s plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, supported by the unprecedented level of Government funding to the organisation. Garda strength in the Northern Region has increased to approximately 1,500, an increase of 150 Gardaí since the end of 2017. These Gardaí are supported by approximately 160 Garda staff in the region, which represents an increase of almost 35% over the past 3 years, with the result that additional Gardaí can be redeployed from administrative to operational policing duties where their training and policing expertise can be used to best effect.
I am assured that requirements in the region will in the usual way be kept under ongoing review by Garda management. In the event that a “no deal” Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in border areas, I understand from the Commissioner that further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.