Checkpoints and cameras on a future hard Irish border would be a potential target – and recruitment tool – for dissident terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, the region’s deputy chief of police has warned.
Drew Harris said paramilitary activity was still a major concern after 58 shootings and 32 bombing incidents this year so far, which had gone largely unreported by the media.
He told members of the Brexit select committee who were visiting Northern Ireland that a new extradition treaty between the UK and Ireland may need to be drawn up to replace the European arrest warrant after Brexit.
“Dissident groups see [the border] as an area which is contentious, which will give them a further rallying call to try and engender support,” Harris told MPs. “It is of concern. They have a focus in this. They see it as an opportunity.
“Infrastructure on the border – that would be an obvious place for dissident groups to rally around and also to attack. It is highly forseeable that dissident groups would seek to take action and that would include [against] buildings,” he added.
The Brexit select committee was making its first visit to the Irish border since the referendum and will also travel to Middletown, a small crossing between county Armagh and county Monaghan.
Chairman Hilary Benn noted that the only visible sign of the border was the change in colour of the road verge markings and the difference in road surface.
Two customs houses, now dilapidated, remain on either side the bridge. “That they are derelict is a good thing. We wouldn’t want any return to a hard border,” he said.
Two vocal Brexit-support Mps, Jacob Rees Mogg and Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson, declined to take part in the trip even though the border issue is currently in deadlock in Brexit talks.
The committee heard how the border is vulnerable not just to smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol but also to sex offenders, human traffickers and burglars who try to use the Irish border to evade capture.
The deputy chief constable said 20 years ago there was a huge problem with aggravated burglaries on elderly householders with criminals fleeing across the border, north or south, to escape justice.
On one recent occasion a culprit involved in a road accident on the north side fled to the south but was apprehended by Irish police.
This was because of the “very good working relationship with the Garda Siochana” that has evolved since the Good Friday Agreement almost 20 years ago.
“Criminal gangs did evade us using the border. We’ve worked hard over the last 20 years to make sure that’s not the case,” Harris said.
“We don’t want to diminish where we are at the moment, that our relationships are maintained [ post Brexit].”
Drew also warned how difficult policing and cross-border justice would be if the UK pulled out of the pan-European arrest system underpinned by EU law.
“Before the European arrest warrants, extradition on the island of Ireland was very difficult,” he said.
HMRC chiefs were not asked about customs posts but spoke about organised crime and said most smuggling would remain in areas where excise duties differed such as cigarettes, alcohol and fuel.
Fraud investigations were intelligence led and would not need any extra infrastructure on the border, MPs were told.