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Commissioner says there's no plan to move 600 gardaí to border - but what WILL happen?

There is concern as the March deadline approaches that hundreds of gardaí will be transferred last-minute in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Image: Niall Carson/PA

THIS MORNING THE Garda Commissioner dismissed a report that he had discussed a proposal to move 600 gardaí to the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Irish Independent reported that draft emergency plans were the focus of a meeting yesterday between Commissioner Drew Harris and senior staff at Garda Headquarters.

The paper cited sources who said 600 gardaí would be required to man an estimated 300 border crossings if the force is faced with a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

However the Commissioner today said the reports of 600 gardaí being moved to the border are “entirely incorrect”. 

“I have not discussed this matter neither have I considered this proposal,” he said.

The increasing deployment of gardaí to all policing regions including the Northern Region is commensurate with a growing organisation.

“We continue to prepare for Brexit in line with government policy”.

The Commissioner did not expand on how garda management is preparing for Brexit, and government policy so far has been to deny that it is making any plans for a hard border.

In November, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the government was not making contingency plans in terms of policing in the event of a no-deal Brexit. His department has been asked for an update on this position today. 

‘Sensible planning’

An Oireachtas committee today heard from Revenue’s chairperson Niall Cody, who explained that his staff are not planning for customs posts but they are prepared for a no-deal Brexit. He said in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Revenue will operate controls and checks with a risk-based approach at traders’ premises. 

It has also upgraded its Customs IT system to handle increased transaction levels. And a number of additional staff are being recruited and trained to be in place for the March deadline. 

Last year, PSNI chief constable George Hamilton indicated the police force on the other side of the border was preparing for a scenario that would require between 300 and 500 extra officers to police the border. 

At the time he described it as “sensible planning” that would enable the PSNI to be ready for the post-Brexit era. 

Senior sources have said there are discussions within An Garda Síochána about the implications of Brexit, but there have been no talks with representative associations about how this is likely to impact on their members. 

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said today it has sought a meeting with garda management about Brexit issues and expects to meet them “in the near future”.

“As for the movement of personnel, we have no details of same right now,” a spokesperson said. 

The Garda Commissioner’s denial of similar ‘sensible’ planning, and the government’s repeated denial that it has contingency plans for policing a hard border have caused concern among the gardaí who may be transferred at short notice to do the job.

‘It can’t be enough’

One source said they did not believe even the 600 figure the Commissioner refuted today would be enough to police 300 border posts. 

“It can’t be enough. You’d need four people minimum for every checkpoint if you’re going to have it manned 24/7. And that’s with just two people at each post.”

They also pointed out that the temporary transfer of so many members would be a “massive cost” for the already financially stretched organisation. 

Another said it is likely that a large number of inexperienced new recruits would be sent straight from Templemore when they graduate to bulk up the numbers.

The organisation will struggle to get enough gardaí to volunteer for these transfers and sources said forcing hundreds of personnel to move away from their families to police the border will drive morale down even further.

James Morrisroe, Garda Representative Association (GRA) representative for the Cavan Monaghan division, said his members have been asking him about what will happen if the March deadline passes and there is no deal.

“One would have thought that at this stage that the members who may be potentially affected in the worst case scenario would have been given some indication of a contingency plan.

Maybe it’s not actually being talked about by the powers that be, but that does not negate the fact that 29 March is fast-approaching and surely a prudent course of action at this stage would be to devise some sort of contingency plan with the input of the representative associations.

“I have been inundated with queries from the garda members within the Cavan/Monaghan division as to what, if any, are the plans but I’m afraid I have no answers at this stage and this only fuels the speculation.”

When initially asked about policing plans for Brexit, the Department of Justice did not address queries about whether any contingency plans have been discussed or whether any estimations of garda numbers needed have been made.

It also did not respond to a question about garda members who are concerned about being moved last-minute to the border and about cuts to resources in their stations as a result of a hard border. 

Instead it referred TheJournal.ie to the Garda Commissioner’s statement.  

In a statement this evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: 

“The Department of Justice and Equality has been preparing for the UK’s exit from the EU since 2016.

“Obviously operational matters are the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner and his team but the department has been working closely with organisations and agencies across the sector including An Garda Síochána. 

It is important to note that the Common Travel Area arrangements will continue post-Brexit and police cooperation – both North/South and East/West – which are currently at historically positive levels, will also continue.

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