Tackling cross-border crime is a high priority for this Government, the Gardaí and our other law enforcement authorities.
Policing in the border region has always presented particular challenges that necessitate a collaborative approach to policing between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border. There is close ongoing cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI and other law enforcement agencies who all work closely together on a broad range of policing responsibilities.
As I have outlined in the Houses previously, the existing multi-agency cooperative arrangements in place to tackle cross-border crime are already 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 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.
The Deputy may also be interested to note that the collaboration between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI was recently extended with establishment of the first ever AGS-PSNI Joint Investigation Team involving Eurojust. This is a very significant and positive development will further strengthen the already close and positive cooperation between police services on the island of Ireland.
Finally, I would 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.