Fears hard border will put police in firing line of violent republicans

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, at a press conference in Derry in 2010, when he was G District Chief Superintendent.
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, at a press conference in Derry in 2010, when he was G District Chief Superintendent.

The PSNI and Gardaí fear violent republicans will exploit a hard border to target more and more police officers for assassination.

The forces are working on a joint analysis of what might happen if no Brexit deal by March 29, 2019, means the erection of manned custom posts at Muff, Bridgend and Killea. Chief Constable George Hamilton said the work will be complete before Christmas.

“We know that a hard border would be exploited by organised criminality and, more worryingly, by violent dissident republican groupings, because it would inevitably need to have some manifestation of the state at the border, probably in terms of people but even in terms of technology,” he said.

“Those people and technology would need to be protected. That probably brings police officers into the arena. They in turn become a target, and very quickly we could get back to providing opportunities and targets for the terrorists, which we do not want to do,” said the Chief Constable.

The contingency planning was commissioned after a meeting at the start of October attended by Chief Constable Hamilton, his Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, the former Derry police chief, and the Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin.

Chief Constable Hamilton told members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that both forces’ approach to policing the normalised border has been succesfully fluid.

“It is not a case of us leaving the border unpoliced or anything like that, but we prefer to police even the current border, in co-operation with the Guards, in a way that is unpredictable and agile. Stephen and I are both of a generation where we remember dozens, maybe hundreds of permanent vehicle checkpoints at border crossings.

“That left as many or more informal border crossings unstaffed. It was not really securing the border. It was not hard; it was still porous. We would prefer to have the resources and agility to police that from an immigration, organised crime and terrorist perspective in a much more agile and unpredictable way, because it is more effective.”

Chief Constable Hamilton and ACC Martin also acknowleged Derry was an area of higher levels of violent republican activity. ACC Martin said all dissident groups have sworn in new members this year, from people who were toddlers at the time of the Good Friday Agreement to ex-Provos.

“All the dissident republican groups that exist have recruited this year. Some of those recruits have been middle-aged people, generally but not exclusively men, many of whom will have been involved previously during the Troubles with other mainstream republican groups like the Provisional IRA.”