A British-Irish parliamentary body has warned that the strong relationship between Gardaí and the PSNI “could be undermined” if there was no Brexit agreement.
It raised particular concerns regarding the continued sharing of data and information between the police agencies and the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions.
The latest report from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, Illicit Trade and the Border, noted “significant success” in tackling the cross border trade in laundered fuel.
But it expressed concern at a rise in organised crime groups operating on both sides of the border, increasing from one in five crime gangs in 2014 to one in three groups in 2019.
The report was drawn up by the assembly's Sovereign Matters Committee A and four rapporteurs gathered evidence: Declan Breathnach TD, Senator Paul Coghlan, Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Nigel Mills MP.
They held meetings, North and South, with the PSNI, HM Revenue and Customs, Gardaí, Revenue and Retailers Against Smuggling.
The report noted the impact of a fuel marker in combatting fuel laundering. The marker is highly resistant to distillation when gangs try to remove the red dye used in agricultural diesel in order to sell it on as road diesel.
It said the committee was concerned at reports that gangs were resorting to “dangerous methods” to bypass the fuel marker.
“Officials on both sides of the border warned us that some gangs had resorted to distilling fuel to temperatures of 220 degrees in an attempt to remove the marker,” it said.
We heard that this was incredibly dangerous, putting the lives of local people at considerable risk.
Revenue told the inquiry that recent tax increases on roll-your-own tobacco “led to a proportionate increase in the illicit trade”. The inquiry heard concerns at the “import of large scale machinery” to manufacture counterfeit cigarettes.
The committee said the depth of cooperation between the PSNI and Gardai had “improved” since their last inquiry in 2015, but said there were concerns over Brexit. The PSNI was “particularly concerned” at their ability to exchange information with Gardaí and other EU police services.
The report said Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had told them that the absence of agreements on sharing information “could undermine” efforts to tackle cross border crime.
The report concluded: “The Committee is concerned by reports that the strong and effective collaborative relationship between the PSNI and An Garda Siochána could be undermined were the United Kingdom and European Union unable to agree on a formal withdrawal agreement, particularly with regard to data sharing and the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions.”
The PSNI raised concerns about the “potential societal impact” if there was no agreement and warned of “potential unrest” if there were higher levels of unemployment “particularly in the agricultural sector”.
Commissioner Harris said he did not think there would be more gangs after Brexit but “rather that existing groups would likely expand their operations”.
The committee said “minimum and/or mandatory sentencing laws” on the illicit trade should be considered.