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Armed police unit to be moved to Irish border in Brexit preparation

By Aoife Moore, PA

A new armed police support unit will be moved closer to the border in preparation for Brexit, Ireland's top police officer has said.

Commissioner Drew Harris was speaking to an Irish Parliament justice committee on Wednesday, when a number of representatives asked about concerns surrounding the UK's departure from the EU in relation to crime and disorder.

"Overall we are ready, we've been, in effect, thinking about this for two years and building up resources in the border area during that time," Mr Harris said.

"We have a passing out parade in November and that will allow us to further supplement the border counties.

"We've built up resources around our armed support unit, at the moment we have about 30 more members trained and ready.

"We're also looking towards the introduction of an armed support unit in Cavan to reduce response times in the border area, so there's a lot more to come, but we're very aware of the Brexit challenges.

"We have increased numbers in the border area, and making further investment in armed support in Cavan through the new operating model we will further enhance policing around the border counties.

"We ourselves are in a high state of planning and prep for October and for what it'll mean in short and medium term for policing in Ireland."

Mr Harris refused to be drawn into speculation about possible violence in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which has been forecast by many, including dissident republican groups, if customs or border posts are introduced, as the UK becomes a third country with an EU border.

"I'm not going to speculate on what border infrastructure is going to be, I'm responsible for providing a policing service to protect society," he said.

"As yet, I don't know what Brexit we're getting, and therefore what will be the ramifications of that.

"There are three various elements, organised crime, threat from dissident republican groups and the impact on local communities.

"Regrettably, in respect of the impact from dissident groups, we've already seen this year six national security attacks in Northern Ireland and we ourselves have had to cope with that demand and respond and support the PSNI and conduct our own investigative efforts against these groups.

"There has been an uptick in demand, which has caused strain on the organisation, but we're prepared for that, and working hard to thwart those threats."

Mr Harris has been transformational for the Irish police force as he closes in on his first year in the job, after a complete overhaul was called for after years of scandals within An Garda Siochana.

The latest will see the national force reduced from six divisional regions to four, however Mr Harris says due to Brexit, the border unit will be the last to see any structural change.

"In respect of implementation, we'll want to be certain about the processes before we go to the border.

"There's enough happening in the border divisions at the moment without telling them on November 1, 'Guess what? You're also doing structural change'.

"We'll hold off until we get some certainty on what the Brexit position is likely to be."

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