Garda up to the task of policing Border, says Minister for Justice

Despite station closures since Troubles ended, force has vehicles and improved technology

The closure of numerous Garda stations and Defence Forces barracks since the Troubles ended will not impede the State's ability to police the Border, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said.

While acknowledging many Garda stations had been closed, the force’s fleet of vehicles and its technology had greatly improved, facilitating better policing, he said.

Security sources, in both the Garda and Defence Forces, are concerned at the State’s ability to respond to any trouble that might flare along the Border in a disorderly Brexit, especially as numbers in the Defence Forces are continuing to fall. They also believe any Border infrastructure could be subject to attacks.

Addressing these concerns, Mr Flanagan said: “There’s far more to policing and An Garda Síochána than mere bricks and mortar.

“We’re in an era of advanced technology . . . and we have had a multimillion-euro investment in the Garda fleet.”

‘Boots on the ground’

He said just over 200 new gardaí had graduated on Friday and would be taking up their duties in stations next week. And he was confident Garda Commissioner Drew Harris would have sufficient "boots on the ground to police the Border areas to protect the people of this State" after Brexit.

Some 49 of the new gardaí passing out are being deployed to the Northern region. Garda sources said this was only marginally higher than numbers that would normally be deployed to that region.

Mr Flanagan said that, overall, Garda numbers had recently just risen about 14,000 again. And he was “quite confident” the increasing numbers would be deployed appropriately, including along the Border in light of Brexit.

In total, 46 of the class were women and some 27 per cent of Garda personnel were now female

He said he had discussed policing plans for Brexit with Mr Harris but deployment of Garda resources along the Border was a matter for the Garda.

Mr Flanagan was speaking at a passing-out ceremony for the 206 new Garda members at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary. Mr Harris was also in attendance but he did not speak to the media.

In total, 46 of the class were women and some 27 per cent of Garda personnel were now female, which the Department of Justice said was higher than the European average.

Of Friday’s graduation group, 14 were from outside the Republic, including recruits from England, Northern Ireland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Hungary, Romania and the United States.

Serious case review

On the issue of the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons by husband and father Alan Hawe at their Co Cavan home in 2016, Mr Flanagan said a Garda serious case review was just commencing. It was for the Garda authorities to decide if a final report arising from that review would be published or not. However, he had promised Clodagh Hawe's mother and sister last week that a study of familicide would be carried out. And the terms of reference of that review were being finalised.

“I’m very keen to ensure that the outstanding questions the family have are dealt with,” he said.

On the issue of Joanne Hayes and her family taking legal action against the State over their treatment during the Kerry babies scandal in the 1980s, Mr Flanagan said he told Ms Hayes last year he would respect her privacy. He was intent on honouring that and not speaking publicly about her. But he said the State would "make every effort" to reach an early settlement to her legal action.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times