Cross-border criminality 'taken into account' in Brexit planning: Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reviews a trainee guard of honour on his first visit to Templemore Garda Training College in Co Tipperary. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

An increase in criminal activity on both sides of the border is being "taken into account" in Brexit contingency planning, the Taoiseach has said.

Smuggling and other cross-border crime could increase in the case of a no-deal Brexit, but Leo Varadkar has insisted that there are no plans for a hard border on the island.

Speaking at passing out ceremony for 199 new gardaí at the Garda College, Templemore Leo Varadkar said: "We are not making any contingency plans for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but we do have to have regard for the fact that you could see an increase in things like smuggling for example and other illegal cross-border activities so yes we have to take that into account in our planning for the next year."

The PSNI has already stated that 400 more police officers will be required in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

When asked about the possible recruitment of more gardaí to border areas, Mr Varadkar said that there are now around 600 more gardaí in the force than there were this time last year.

"We are going to continue to expand the force over the next couple of years," he said.

"How gardaí are deployed of course is a matter for the Commissioner, we will have to take into account any changes that arise because of Brexit and also we need to make sure that we have very close cooperation with the PSNI," the Taoiseach told reporters.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who was also at the ceremony in Co Tipperary, said the gardaí are talking to the PSNI on a "daily basis".

"Obviously in any border area there are challenges in the context of organised crime and smuggling but we are not making contingency plans for a hard border."

The Taoiseach also stressed the importance of getting sign-off on the draft withdrawal treaty in the House of Commons.

"Obviously our overriding plan and overriding objective is to avoid a no-deal scenario and that's why we have put so much work into a withdrawal agreement which will go before Westminster in the next couple of weeks.

"The best thing we can do to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to have a deal and we have a deal on the table now," he said.

Turning his focus to policing, Mr Varadkar said there is now a "really good" reform programme under way in the gardaí.

He added that there has been an increase in investment in vehicles and equipment.

In a speech at the passing out ceremony, Mr Varadkar said those who put on the uniform are called to perform the highest service in the land.

He described Drew Harris, who took up the position of Garda Commissioner in September, as a "leader with the experience and the determination to drive reform and modernisation".

"His primary focus is to protect the public and his members. From my meetings with him, I know he is determined to make swift progress on the issues that have been raised by Gardaí - including rosters, uniforms and appropriate resources, such as ICT - to help you do your job," Mr Varadkar told the new officers.

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