Local Garda bosses say threats from dissidents to murder people who talk to the police must be met “head-on” and warned that the paramilitaries must not be allowed “take control”.
Garda superintendents said dissidents are seeking to exploit not only the ongoing political vacuum but a “policing vacuum” created by a “vast reduction” of gardaí on the southern side of the border and the closure of police stations on the northern side.
Supt Noel Cunningham, president of the Association of Garda Superintendents, said Garda strategies that had been deployed to tackle gangs carrying out rural crimes should be used to combat the rise in border crime and the “spate” of ATM robberies.
Against the backdrop of violent feuds in Drogheda, Co Louth, and Corduff and Finglas in west Dublin, Supt Cunningham told the AGS annual conference in Kildare that action must be against gangs “vying for territory in our ever-increasing drugs war”.
Supt Cunningham said the threat from dissidents remains and that the political vacuum in Stormont is “not helping the situation”.
He said that arising from the so-called peace dividend, there has been a “vast reduction” in Garda numbers and the closure of police stations on the northern side of the border. This had created a “policing vacuum” that paramilitaries and criminals are eager to exploit.
Supt Cunningham said dissidents have “historically taken advantage of young people who feel disenfranchised”.
Referring to death threats on signs and graffiti the New IRA had put up in Creggan to stop people from assisting the PSNI in relation to the murder of Lyra McKee, he said: “I think it was seen in Derry where threats were written up when people went forward and give information that they would be dealt with.
“So, it’s very, very important that we treat these threats head-on and that these people do not take control.”
Addressing minister of state at the Department of Justice David Stanton, Supt Cunningham said: “The crime corridors identified by us at last year’s conference remain open as can be seen by the increase in border crime and the spate of ATM robberies on both sides of the border.”
He said, at the same time, that gardaí have had some success in combating crime in rural areas. “We have seen a significant decrease in rural crime due to targeted and resourced operations nationally to combat the movement of known criminals. There are clear lessons to be learned.”
Supt Cunningham said his members face “constant challenges” in trying to deal with drug crime. “This is a national issue permeated into towns and villages across the country where opposing groups are vying for territory and market share in our ever-increasing drugs war.”
He took to task groups, including official bodies such as health agencies and researchers, for language used around drugs.
“The use by groups, including official sources, of the term ‘recreational drugs’ is only helping to normalise what is illegal, dangerous, and supporting drug abuse in Ireland.”