There are difficulties policing the 34 border crossings in the Dundalk area as part of efforts to deal with fuel laundering and cigarette smuggling, the Seanad has heard.
The area north and immediately south of the border was described as “bandit country”.
Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan said co-operation between the police forces of the North and South was excellent.
But “our gardaí in that area have received threats from some of these people in the past. Some of these people have obstructed and driven through road blocks.”
He added: “North of the border in south Armagh, policing is even more difficult. There is a personnel shortage. One will not find any policemen on the beat”. He said, “they have armoured vehicles for when they leave their barracks. The place is a fortress.”
Difficult to police
Mr Coughlan, co-author of a report by a committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly on cross-border fuel laundering, petrol stretching and cigarette smuggling, cited the 34 border crossings in the Dundalk area and said it was “difficult to police it all”.
He noted comments in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin suggesting the authorities were turning a blind eye to this criminal activity.
“Certainly there is that anecdotal view and we also met it recently in our study, before we compiled the report.”
He said it was “not tolerable that, 17 years after the first peace agreement, we have certain crime overlords and drug smugglers openly flouting the law”.
Calls for debate
Mr Coghlan backed calls for a debate on the issue and said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Justice and the Government were pursuing these issues with their counterparts in the North and in London.
Independent Feargal Quinn said he was “delighted at the attention being given in recent days to problems in the border area, particularly the fuel smuggling that has gone on. I hope something comes of it.”
He added: “It really is bandit country up there, both north and immediately south of the border. It seems they can get away with it with impunity.”
Mr Coghlan said he was not suggesting that a blind eye was being turned but “it has been going on for far too long”.
Mr Cummins said he agreed with comments made on Tuesday that “if the intelligence services of the UK can find Osama bin Laden in a cave, it should be easy for them to find out where this diesel laundering is happening”.