PSNI chief constable issues warning over border security

PSNI Chief constable George Hamilton
PSNI Chief constable George Hamilton

The PSNI chief constable has warned that the government is failing to prepare for the impact Brexit could have on the peace and security in Northern Ireland.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, George Hamilton accused some Westminster politicians of failing to understand the dangers posed by terrorist groups in the Province.

“There’s a feeling that as regards the Troubles and the conflict, Northern Ireland is sorted and we don’t need to worry about it, when actually we’re working flat out 24/7 to keep a lid on it,” he said.

Mr Hamilton said he was is not getting the information and clarity needed, and claimed that some politicians in GB regard Northern Ireland as “peripheral”.

He highlighted that the terrorist threat level was “severe” even before Brexit, and that in the first nine months of this year “there have been dozens of successful [police] operations which have led to the disruption and prevention of murderous attacks by violent dissident republicans”.

Speaking as Northern Ireland reached a record 600 days without a devolved government due to the collapse of the powersharing institutions at Stormont, Mr Hamilton said the ongoing political vacuum “adds to the general instability in a volatile post-conflict society”.

“We would much prefer the government to be up and running, delivering on a programme and making people feel the benefit of peace and normality instead of this tension and nervousness,” he continued.

Any physical infrastructure or border officials would become targets for dissident republicans and would require police protection, Mr Hamilton said.

“The purpose for which those checking points and border controls would be put in place would become less and less relevant because they would move away from issues of trade or movement of people to old-fashioned security on a national frontier”, the chief constable added.

“That was done during the period of the Troubles rather unsuccessfully, and was sadly the subject of attacks and many lives lost.”

Mr Hamilton has previously told Westminster’s NI Committee that he needs an additional 400 officers for operations along the Irish border after Brexit, as well as new vehicles and other equipment.

The PSNI has also suspended the sale of three disused police stations along the border at Warrenpoint, Aughnacloy and Castlederg as a “precautionary step” due to the implications of Brexit.

In his interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Hamilton said cross-border smuggling would escalate as prices and tax rates diverged.

“We can make the sensible assumption that violent dissident Republican groupings and organised criminals will seek to exploit that. It’s already tricky enough policing that high-threat border,” he added.

While he suggested the government might consider smuggling to be “small beer”, Mr Hamilton said: “It’s actually the lifeblood for organised crime and terrorism and has a massive impact on local communities and legitimate small businesses and the fabric of society.”

He also said that a renewed focus on a border would serve to stoke tensions between Northern Ireland’s two communities, adding: “It doesn’t take too much to make people insecure in their identity and constitutional position.”

Asked if the government understood Brexit’s potential consequences for Northern Ireland, Mr Hamilton told the Sunday Times: “I’m not sure all of them do. I have a concern some may see issues to do with the Irish border as literally peripheral, not just geographically but in terms of impact.”