Belfast Telegraph

PSNI and Garda tell Irish parliament of joint plans for policing border in hard Brexit

By Cate McCurry

The PSNI and Garda are planning for a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a committee in the Republic's parliament heard yesterday.

Assistant Garda Commissioner Patrick Leahy and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said they had been working together in an attempt to reduce the fallout of a chaotic Brexit.

Mr Todd appeared before the Oireachtas committee in Dublin for the first time alongside Mr Leahy in which they discussed the range of work both police forces have been putting in place.

It is only the second time a PSNI officer has appeared before the sub-committee, following Sir Hugh Orde's visit in 2006.

Sinn Fein Senator Niall O'Donnghaile asked the pair how damaging a hard border would be for cross-border corporation.

Mr Leahy responded: "We all know what could happen so we are planning for it, and in terms of resources and training we are looking at our infrastructure and what the implications will be.

"We are being mature about what is required around (Brexit) and we are waiting with bated breath as to where this takes us, but we are not sitting back and doing nothing."

Mr Todd told the committee it was difficult to plan without details of the final Brexit deal.

"We have been looking at the range of work we do on a cross-border basis and looking at which pieces rely on European regulations, and trying to work out if we lost those how we would maintain what we have," he said.

While there is no Brexit deal on the table, and with just months to go before the UK leaves the European Union, there is a growing risk of a hard border.

Mr Todd said that the PSNI continues to face threats from dissident republicans and said he would be "nervous" of a return to infrastructure at the frontier.

He said: "We would be nervous about anything that could be used as a focus to try and harness discontent and be used as some sort of quasi-legitimacy for their actions.

"It would make us uncomfortable at the notion that local community teams would want to enforce or be part of a border structure that didn't have approval of local communities."

It has also emerged that the armed response unit in Northern Ireland, which was set up to deal with gun and knife crime, spends more than half its time in interventions with people suffering from mental health problems.

"That has been the saddest shift with which policing deals," Mr Todd added.

Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly described it as "mind blowing", and asked whether police in the Republic were dealing with similar issues.

Mr Leahy told the committee that mental health was a factor in policing and the level of trauma that officers dealt with in the public is "becoming really topical".

The Leinster House committee further heard about the PSNI's use of social media to reach out to the public.

Mr Todd explained how the PSNI now had a social media outreach of more than 900,000 followers.

"In most towns across Northern Ireland there are more people following us on social media than have ever met a police officer," he added. Mr Todd said that local police were able to post updates without centralised control, but this also brought "risks".

The committee heard that the Garda Facebook has 450,000 followers, while its Twitter account has almost half-a-million.

Ms Daly, however pointed out that the PSNI had almost double the number of social media followers, and urged the Garda to "pay attention" to that area.

Belfast Telegraph

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