Irish army mappers find 100 more border crossings ahead of Brexit
Brexit border audit discovers nearly 300 routes into Northern Ireland
The Irish Army has completed a confidential mapping of the Northern Ireland Border ahead of Brexit that has found substantially more routes into the region than previously thought.
The mapping exercise is believed to have identified almost 300 crossing points into Northern Ireland across the 310-mile frontier, including many routes that had not been officially recorded before, according to informed sources.
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The routes are understood to include country lanes, private roads, rights of way across private lands and other unmarked access points leading into Northern Ireland that could be potential smuggling routes.
The highly sensitive work was conducted by members of the Defence Forces, working with gardai. It involved physical mapping of the Border by army personnel along with desk-top work and was completed in recent months.
Defence Forces are in continual mapping of Ireland's Border for security purposes, such as during the Foot & Mouth disease outbreak 17 years ago The latest exercise is regarded as particularly significant in light of the potential security risks posed by Brexit.
The updated map of the frontier will form a key part of the security services' contingency planning for a doomsday scenario that could follow Britain plunging out of the EU without a deal.
The last official report on the Border identified 208 official crossing points. That report was published jointly in July by the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and the Department of Infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
However, it highlighted only public roadways along the Border that stretches from Donegal to Antrim and did not include any private roads or laneways.
The Defence Forces' work has highlighted scores of private crossing points, some of which could be vulnerable to criminality in the event of a hard border. The Irish Army's Border mapping work can be viewed in the context of the security risks posed by Brexit, which were outlined in stark detail at a cross-border crime conference last month.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told the conference that dissidents would "undoubtedly" attempt to exploit a hard border as "something they wish to rally around".
But the conference was also warned that even a soft Brexit could lead to challenges with increases in cross-border smuggling of all kinds, including people trafficking, cigarette and alcohol smuggling and fuel laundering. The conference was told that 43pc of cross-border gangs are highly mobile and operate on both sides of the Border.
Previous security assessments have identified 10 criminal gangs dominating cigarette smuggling on both sides of the Border. The Government's position is that there must be no return to a hard border.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said earlier this month that the Government has no contingency plans in place for policing the Border in the event of a hard Brexit.
However, he said the Government does "have regard for the fact that we could see an increase in smuggling and other illegal cross-border activities".
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the Defence Forces said: "In the normal course, Oglaigh na hEireann carry out analysis and background research into contingencies. This would include viable border crossings. In the context of security, any research in relation to the border or otherwise is internal to Oglaigh na hEireann."
A statement from An Garda Siochana this weekend said they "have been and will continue to review the policing issues relating to Brexit. This has included regular liaison with our counterparts in Northern Ireland. However, without a final political settlement, it is not yet clear what the specific impacts on policing will be."
"Regardless of the final political settlement, our long-standing strong working relationship with the PSNI will continue in order to protect and support communities."