As the Deputy is aware, policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges and these necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border.
I am pleased to say that cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI has never been closer. As Deputies are aware, the importance of this ongoing high level of cooperation has been emphatically demonstrated again in recent weeks by the abhorrent attack on an individual in Co Fermanagh. I visited the area last week and was briefed by the Commissioner and the investigation team. It is clear that elements of this horrific crime took place on both sides of the border and a joint investigation is ongoing, including ongoing sharing of information and evidence, between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.
The multi-agency cooperation in place to tackle cross-border crime is quite structured and successful.
The Deputy will be aware that in November 2015 the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed a series of measures in the Fresh Start agreement,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. A number of other relevant bodies, including the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau are also closely involved.
The objective of the Task Force is to build on existing law enforcement frameworks and to increase the collective effectiveness of operational actions. In this format, the senior management level of the two police services provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities.
The Task Force has had some notable success in tackling cross-border criminal activity across a range of crime areas. These include not just traditional smuggling activities, but also rural and farm crimes, organised burglary and drug crime.
The regrettable absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland means that the work of the Task Force is less visible than it might have been. It was designed to report to Justice Ministers north and south and it is my hope that the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland will allow the Task Force to reach its full potential.
The multi-agency nature of the Task Force is critical to its success. It is a strong example of the extensive North-South cooperation between the police, customs services and other law enforcement agencies involved in tackling crime and enhancing the safety of all communities on both sides of the border. The Task Force complements both the ongoing formal and informal co-operation between AGS and PSNI, as well as specific joint investigations which take place when individual crime incidents with a cross border dimension occur, such as the one underway into the abduction and assault of an individual as already referred to.
Last week I attended the 17th Cross Border Conference on Organised Crime in Co. Cavan together with the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, senior officers from all the agencies and senior officials from Department of Justice Northern Ireland and my own Department. This is an annual event, 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 conference gave members of the Task Force the opportunity to consider in detail the necessary improvements and innovations, including international cooperation, which can be taken to strengthen the effectiveness of the Task Force.
While the work of the Task Force is reviewed as part of the annual cross border conference on organised crime, there is ongoing multiagency engagement in relation to operations to tackle cross border crime.
I am sure the Deputy will join me in welcoming the Commissioner's decision to establish an additional Armed Support Unit (ASU) in Cavan, which became operational this week. This ASU will complement the work of those already based in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal and Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Northern Region.
The Northern region has benefited from the accelerated recruitment to An Garda Síochána and the unprecedented €1.76 billion budget provided to An Garda Síochána for 2019. The Garda strength in the Northern Region has increased to approximately 1,500, an increase of 150 Gardaí since the end of 2017 as well as approximately 150 Garda staff in the region, which represents an increase of almost 30% over the past 3 years.
The ongoing recruitment will provide the Commissioner with the resources needed to deploy increasing numbers of Gardaí to deliver a visible, effective and responsive policing service. These requirements will be kept under ongoing review by Garda management with a view to addressing any policing requirements for the Border region which may arise. In the event that a “no deal” Brexit gives rise to additional requirements in border areas, further resources can and will be provided through redeployment.
Finally, I can assure the Deputy that, irrespective of the political outcome of Brexit, the excellent ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI must and will continue to combat the threat posed by criminals that seek to exploit the policing challenges posed by the border.