Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna (8)

Brendan Smith


8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 261 and 262 of 22 January 2019, if consideration will be given to the provision of additional staffing and financial resources to the Border region in 2019 in view of concerns about Brexit and ongoing cross-Border criminality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11996/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

I am taking this question on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, who is unable to attend the Chamber.

Will consideration be given to the provision of additional staffing and financial resources to the Border region in 2019 in view of concerns about Brexit and ongoing cross-Border criminality?

In common with all Departments and State agencies, An Garda Síochána has been preparing for Brexit. There is ongoing engagement between senior Garda management and my Department in this regard. Preparation has had a wide-ranging focus on operational requirements, including personnel, infrastructure and technology. The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, is committed to ensuring the organisation can deal with any policing challenges arising from Brexit. Clearly, however, the circumstances which may arise are dependent on the ultimate political settlement.

The Government's policy is that there will be no hard border on the island and there are no plans for such. However, policing in the Border region has always presented particular challenges. This can be expected to increase in the context of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. It is also the case that violent dissident republican groups continue to seek to frustrate counter-terrorism efforts while organised criminals seek to exploit the two jurisdictions to try to evade detection.

The 2018 cross-Border threat assessment, prepared jointly by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, estimated 43% of organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland have a cross-Border dimension. Likewise, mobile organised crime groups, responsible for multiple instances of domestic burglary, operate on an all-island basis. There are increasing instances of borderless crimes such as cyberfraud and international terrorism.

The success of cross-Border policing actions is grounded in the recognition that the best means of combating the threat to our communities is to maintain and enhance the excellent levels of co-operation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the Border. The Garda and the PSNI, along with other agencies, have worked together closely for many years and enjoy an excellent working relationship and co-operation at all levels. The Fresh Start agreement recognised this and led to the establishment of joint agency investigation teams which have had considerable success in combating this type of crime. This is also the context for the Garda Commissioner’s operational decision to establish an additional armed support unit in Cavan.

It is interesting the Minister discussed the efforts by the Government to put in place resources to militate against cross-Border crime. Has the Minister considered allowing the PSNI or the Garda to follow criminals across the Border? There are European Union member states which allow national police forces to cross borders when they are in pursuit of individuals. Does the Minister think it is logical that a criminal can whizz across the Border with ease, yet the law enforcement agencies in Ireland have to stop on an imaginary line? Would it be logical to progress to some level of co-operation at that depth to ensure we can challenge the existence of criminality on the Border?

While I acknowledge the close level of co-operation between the Garda in the South and the PSNI in the North, the establishment of the joint agency investigation teams is important. However, it does not allow for the type of hot pursuit that Deputy Tóibín envisages.

Garda armed support units provide a rapid armed response capacity and capability on a regional basis. Members of the armed support units in Border areas are highly trained and equipped with a variety of non-lethal and lethal weapons and perform high-visibility armed checkpoints and patrols throughout their respective regions. In the northern region armed support units are currently based in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and Dundalk, County Louth, both of which are in close proximity to the Border, as well as the recently announced unit in Cavan.

The processes and tools being used by the Government seem, to an extent, to be frozen in time. While everyone in this Chamber supports the Good Friday Agreement, evolution in cross-Border integration and co-operation is necessary.

On cross-Border hot pursuits, which different jurisdictions in Europe already allow for, would the Government not at least consider this and enter negotiations with its counterpart in London to see if it is possible to achieve?

I acknowledge the importance of ensuring that this jurisdiction fully monitors international best practice and developments. We should note exchanges and the open recruitment policy of An Garda Síochána in order to facilitate persons who may have experience in other police services applying to An Garda Síochána. I once again record the importance of the appointment of Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, having regard to his extensive experience and expertise in a neighbouring police service.

An Garda Síochána continues to work closely with the Revenue Commissioners and the joint agencies, North and South, on excise fraud, including illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and alcohol, which is an area of serious concern, as well as gangland and organised crime along the Border areas. These are not peculiar to Northern Ireland or the Irish Border but are a feature of all international borders.

On the operational duty issues, to which Deputy Tóibín referred, these are largely a matter for the Commissioner. I assure the House that the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, is engaged at the highest level in ensuring that the best possible measures are taken in order to protect communities and prevent crime.