Henry McDonald: The cross border policing pursuit plan has not been thought through

Contained within the deeply controversial document that ‘advised’ the Police Service of Northern Ireland among other things to close down Crossmaglen station is a proposal for joint policing along the border.

By Henry McDonald
Monday, 6th September 2021, 6:56 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 2:48 pm
Unionists who concentrate their fire on plans to shut down the Crossmaglen station are missing some real targets in this debate
Unionists who concentrate their fire on plans to shut down the Crossmaglen station are missing some real targets in this debate

The paper suggests that the PSNI and Garda Siochana could criss-cross the frontier in the pursuit of criminals and bilateral police investigations.

On one level hearing this from a body with roots in the republican community is yet another example of mainstream republicanism’s verbal and mental gymnastics.

‘Hot Pursuit’ used to be a policy argued for by unionist leaders in the 1970s and 80s as a means of plugging the porous 300-mile border; a frontier that gifted the Provisional IRA a safe haven in the south but contiguous to Northern Ireland.

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Henry McDonald is a former Ireland correspondent for the Observer and Guardian and author of books including a biography of David Trimble and 'INLA: Deadly Divisions'

Just like their new fondness for Brussels and the EU (a political entity Sinn Fein was still against in the early 2000s), the mainstream republicans have suddenly embraced cross-border hot pursuit policing.

Like the British Communist Party activist George Orwell once encountered who one day in 1939 was a proponent of a broad front against the Nazis but 24 hours later became an advocate of the Hitler-Stalin pact ‘in the interests of peace and anti-imperialism’, there appears to be no 360 degree turn that this neo-Shinner brand of republicanism cannot perform.

If it winds up the unionist community it seems no past principle or ideological

Yet just consider the practical implications of such a policy if the embattled Chief Constable Simon Byrne, Naomi Long or the Garda Commissioner ever decided to adopt this strategy for both their police forces.

The border and in particular the North Louth/South Armagh salient remains one of the most lawless regions on the island of Ireland.

Smuggling, whether that be fuel or human beings as we have seen with the recent horrific deaths of Vietnamese migrant workers, is still a rampant, highly organised, ruthlessly controlled and lucrative business on the border.

It continues to be directed by armed gangs with decades of experience in paramilitarism who have transferred that ‘knowledge’ to non-political ‘ordinary’ criminal activities.

Note the word ‘armed’ here because one of the police forces who would supposedly conduct hot pursuit is unarmed: the Garda Siochana.

The Garda can only call upon its armed Emergency Response Unit whose members can be many, many miles away from an incident that involves armed criminals.

The murder of Garda Adrian Donohue who was shot dead during a robbery in North Louth eight years ago is but one tragic example of the dangers unarmed Irish police officers face in a state beset with seemingly out of control, lethal, warring and armed to the teeth crime gangs.

Would Garda officers feel safe and confident pursuing an illegal armed group, ordinary criminal or paramilitary unit, as they fled into South Armagh from the scene of a crime in the south without armed back up?

Conversely how would the citizens of say Dundalk or Drogheda feel about a shoot-out involving armed northern cops and criminals who had crossed the border from the north and had been cornered in one of their towns in Louth or Meath?

These counter-factuals are not theoretical; these scenarios could easily become the practical outworking of a policy of joint hot pursuit along the border.

Such questions are lost in the fog of emotion generated by other propositions in the discussion paper, for which Simon Byrne is coming under increasing pressure to ditch.

Unionists who concentrate their fire on plans to shut down the Crossmaglen station are missing some real targets in this debate.

Any officer I met who ever served in the base said they will not miss it. For them it was a foreboding place to police from and which one policeman I know said was “where you ate, drank, washed and s*** because there was nowhere else you could go”.

In a real sense hot pursuit and joint cross border patrols are the twin defaults of this new approach to policing on the frontier. As is the question of how far you would allow a PSNI or Garda unit to pursue suspects into each other’s territory.

Imagine a scenario for instance where a Garda patrol containing unarmed officers and who are chasing suspected people smugglers end up in Markethill or Portadown! Would they have to call off their chase if the gang being followed drove into a loyalist redoubt like the Corcrain estate?

The politics of hot pursuit appear not to have been thought through.

During the Troubles there was huge opposition and much political controversy in border regions of the Republic even about incursions of Irish airspace by British army helicopters.

How about armed cops from a British police service on your streets?

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• Other article by Henry McDonald below, beneath that information on how to subscribe:

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