No plan in place for policing a hard border, warns Garda chief

Gardaí concerned Border would drive subversives’ recruitment of young people

Garda management has currently no detailed policing plans in place for the Border in the event of a hard Brexit, the Acting Garda Commissioner, Donal O’Cualáin, has said.

Rank and file gardaí on Tuesday expressed concern that management is failing to prepare for a hard border being put in place when the deadline for Brexit negotiations passes in March 2019.

Both the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Superintendents believe about 1,000 extra gardaí would be needed to police a hard border.

“I’m not aware of any plans for a proposed hard border, if the Border comes to fruition. By my estimation, there are 208 crossing points North and South so if you just add that up you’d be talking about 1,000 extra permanent gardaí to be based on the Border and that’s the conservative estimate because you have 500km of Border between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland,” said Garda James Morrisroe who is based in the Cavan/Monaghan garda division.


“That’s a lot of resources and even at the moment we’re struggling for resources along the rural hinterland that is the Border.”

On Tuesday, Mr O'Cualáin told The Irish Times an internal Garda team, headed by Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, is examining the issue of the Border and "looking into all possible outcomes".

"That means that we have a team looking at all scenarios and also that we co-operate fully with the external police services in the North and also across the Irish Sea," he said at the GRA's annual conference in Wexford.

Asked if a plan is in place, he said “there is work ongoing in that context and we will be fully informed by whatever the political outcome might be at the end of the day.”

Mr O’Cualáin added: “The outcome of the political discussions is for the politicians.”

Asked how many extra gardaí would be needed at a hard border, he replied: “The reality is that until we see what the actual picture that emerges is, we can’t really plan in any great detail, so we are just guessing and I am not going to get into that area of speculation.”

Mr Morrisroe said he couldn’t understand how management don’t have a plan in place already given Brexit is less than a year away

“Nobody seems to know what’s going to happen so, from a security point of view and representing our members, it is a worry.”

Subversive groups

Donegal garda Brendan O’Connor said gardaí at the Border are particularly worried about subversive groups using a hard border to recruit young people.

“It is acknowledged by the security services in the North and in the UK that actually the existence of Brexit and the discussion and the possibility of any sort of border is driving young disaffected youth and they’re seeing an increase in recruitment in subversive groups.

“Any infrastructure put in place that is a symbol of division is a focus for those people who are of that persuasion. So definitely the dynamic has changed and we are aware.”

Increased subversive activity may require gardaí to pull back from rural policing along the Border, something they do not want to do, Mr O’Connor said.

“The overall picture is that it’s going back to a time that we had moved away from.”

Last month, the president of the Association of Garda Superintendents, Noel Cunningham, said roads that cross from the Republic into Northern Ireland could become "crime corridors" without more funding and that only about a third as many gardaí are posted in the Border region now as were stationed there during the Troubles.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times