Irish police are increased on border for no-deal Brexit

Additional armed police are being posted to the Republic of Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland which is part of the UK, in the New Year.
The decision to boost the strength of Special Branch and Armed Support Units (ASUs) has been fast-tracked by fears of a hard border after Brexit. Police Commissioner Drew Harris and his security advisers are concerned about the problems that could arise with a hard Brexit acting as a recruiting weapon for dissident republican gangs.
The move follows a review by senior officers at police headquarters of the existing armed strength in the region. Two ASUs are currently deployed in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and Dundalk, County Louth, and are tasked with providing armed intervention and support for the northern region, which covers the Border.
Security chiefs have now decided to create a third ASU, which will be based in the Cavan-Monaghan division.
It has also been agreed to deploy more Special Branch teams, from their headquarters at Harcourt Square, Dublin to bases in the northern region to help cope with the potential security problems that will arise from a British no-deal departure.
“Our armed units are stretched at present to cover an area from Donegal across to Louth and this decision would have been introduced anyway, as a result of the review,” a senior officer said.
Contingency planning for Brexit by police under Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, who is in charge of national security and intelligence for the force, is well advanced and covers options that could be adopted by the UK as they exit the EU.
A no-deal Brexit, which could result in the re-introduction of customs posts, will put the biggest strain on police strength in the Border divisions and PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) manpower.
The British government has given approval to PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton to launch recruitment to increase the strength of his force by 300 new officers and staff. Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said there are no similar contingency plans in the south. Police said a lot would depend on the reaction from both republican and loyalist communities to Brexit.
Intelligence indicates dissident republican gangs are monitoring to see if they can exploit any opportunities to create mayhem and use the return of customs posts as a recruitment tool while increasing cross-Border smuggling rackets to boost funds.
Several key figures in dissident terror groups are due for release from Portlaoise prison in the coming months.
Most of the main groups are leaderless and their hierarchy structures have collapsed because the police have put leading trouble-makers behind bars. Internal struggles have also reduced their effectiveness.
The so-called OnH group (a dissident Irish republican paramilitary group formed after a split within the Real IRA) once regarded as posing one of the most serious threats to security, has split into three factions following the declaration of a ceasefire last January.
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insists onus is on the UK to come up with a Border solution. He has put pressure on London to find a way of maintaining an open Border in the event of a hard Brexit.
Amid growing concerns that Border infrastructure will become unavoidable after Brexit, Coveney said the UK has obligations under the Good Friday Agreement which must be upheld.
He suggested that those in Britain’s House of Commons who are opposed to the so-called backstop, should look at Irish history.
“This is all happening because of a decision the UK has made that Ireland is trying to respond to in a reasonable and respectful way to protect our own interests.”
He added: “Primary responsibility lies in London, not in Dublin, in relation to contingency in the absence of being able to ratify a deal that the British government signed up. I think it’s important that’s where the focus should remain,” Coveney said.
He noted Prime Minister Theresa May had said “many times that physical border infrastructure should not and cannot re-emerge on the island of Ireland.”
Asked how Ireland plans to avoid a hard Border in the event that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, Coveney said nothing would happen in that area while the Withdrawal Agreement was on the table.
“For us to be exploring or talking about other options that are not easily put together is not wise,” he said. (The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at