Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has raised the spectre of criminality being linked to uncertainty around Brexit on top of a lack of a functioning executive in the North.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he said his fear was that “the political vacuum alongside the uncertainty of Brexit can create instability”.
“Anecdotal evidence will show that the uncertainty around Brexit and the concerns around Brexit are feeding into this culture of crime and concern,” said the Fine Gael minister.
His remarks come as the Government played down reports of a secret Brexit deal to keep all of Britain inside an EU customs union. The Department of Foreign Affairs insisted a legally enforceable backstop clause guaranteeing no hard border was still needed.
Mr Flanagan told the Irish Examiner that uncertainty around Britain’s EU exit was now feeding into a climate of instability and even fuelling criminality.
“My fear is the political vacuum alongside the uncertainty of Brexit can create instability.
“Looking at the report of the Independent Reporting Commission, it is quite clear that the highest priority for both governments must be tackling terrorism and the root causes of terrorism.
“The challenge is to tackle the residual of paramilitaries, which has morphed into criminality and organised crime on both sides of the border. On the Northern side, the absence of an executive feeds into this instability. The report highlights the importance of restoring the executive and an assembly to address the issue of organised crime, address the issue of criminality which communities in Northern Ireland have expressed concern that these issues are escalating.”
Asked if he thought uncertainty around Brexit somehow fed into that criminality, the minister said “I do”, adding: “It [the report] is clear, the report points out that the threat of terrorist violence from dissident paramilitary groups, both loyalist and republican, continues to impact in a negative way on communities in northern Ireland. It talks about the insidious culture of paramilitarism and the fact that it continues.
Mr Flanagan reiterated that the Independent Reporting Commission, which reported earlier this month, had warned that Brexit had “created a lot of uncertainty”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was recently criticised for using an EU leaders’ summit to highlight the threat of renewed violence in the North if there were fresh borders.
Despite this, Mr Flanagan is adamant, speaking to the Irish Examiner, about the disorder being created by the Brexit chaos: “Vacuums in Northern Ireland are always filled and that’s a concern.
“Political uncertainty around Brexit has fed into a turbulence. For example, in the border area, people not knowing what Brexit is going to look like, people seeking border polls, people conflating a United Ireland with Brexit. All of this feeds into an uncertainty.
“It feeds into political uncertainty which leads to a certain undermining of order,” he explained.
The overall vacuum was making it “unhelpful to eradicate paramilitary”-linked activity, including “drugs, crime and racketeering,” he added.
Mr Flanagan also reiterated the Irish position on Brexit yesterday, insisting that solid written agreement for a backstop to prevent a hard border must be brought forward.
“It must be seen as a rapidly ticking clock as we move towards the end of the year and as we move towards timelines needing to be met.”
“It is essential now that we seen the written legal text that is the backstop,” he said, given the Irish priorities,” he added.