Garda commissioner Drew Harris has said that more than 60 years of cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the UK and Europe will “fall away” post-Brexit.
The Garda chief also expressed his concerns about the impact Brexit will have on criminal justice matters between the UK, Ireland and wider European police services.
Over the past 18 months additional resources have been added to the Border area, Mr Harris said, and that gardaí will ensure that it remains “an area where the rule of law applies”.
He was speaking this morning at the announcement of the new Garda Operating Model which will see sweeping changes brought in to how policing is carried out across the country.
The Garda Commissioner said that gardaí will continue to ensure that Ireland is protected despite the risk Brexit poses to cooperation with UK police forces.
“It is a fact that a lot of the criminal justice treaties that the UK is a member of will fall away for the UK and that is not going to simplify policing but we are in constant operational contact with our colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland but also across the Irish sea to the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“Our relationships are good, we’re working through what specific issues might be. It is a fact that the UK through Brexit is losing access to a lot of the EU’s criminal justice treaties and the investigative provisions that they apply but we can’t avoid that and we have to mitigate that as much as we can in terms of our operational work with the PSNI,” Mr Harris said.
“We want to make sure we’re still able to share information. If one thinks that the treaty we will fall back to was written in 1959, so 60 years of improvement is going to fall away in terms of the development of criminal justice cooperation across Europe, so its not going to be the same. We can’t make it the same until there is some agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU on cooperation in respect of criminal justice matters.”
Asked if he was worried about this, the Garda chief said: “It is of concern but I think there is a number of elements in respect of this. We do police a border area, we have ensured over the last 18 months that we have built up resources there and we will continue to do so.
“We are dedicated to making sure that remains an area where the rule of law applies. We will be there to keep people safe, we’ll be there to deal with smuggling as we are at the moment and organised crime as we are at the moment and indeed the threat from terrorists.”
Additional armed gardai will also be deployed to border counties as part of the major changes being brought in to how Ireland is policed.
The new Operating Model will now focus on a divisional policing approach rather than the current district model.
The number of garda divisions will reduce from 28 to 19, while there will now be four garda regions compared to six.
This will result in more gardaí being made available for front-line policing by boosting the number of garda staff to carry out administrative duties.
Gardaí hope that the number of attested garda members will have a net increase of 800 by 2021.
Commissioner Drew Harris said, “These improvements will allow us to increase the number of gardaí at the front-line and enhance community policing. Reduced bureaucracy and ICT initiatives combined with an increase in garda members and garda staff will increase garda visibility in communities. It will mean gardaí at all ranks will have more time to engage with local communities and stakeholders to help keep people safe.
“These changes will deliver a more visible, localised and responsive policing service. What won’t change though is the strong connection we have with local communities.”
Divisions will increase in size, will be operationally autonomous, and will be the key to policing delivery.
A Division will be typically made up of around 600 to 800 personnel. This will ensure each Division has the resources and skills to deliver a wider range of community policing and specialist services based on the demand in their area.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said it will support the implementation of the new operational policing model but that there are unanswered questions around funding, manpower, and the impact on rural policing. AGSI has also said it remains unconvinced that the new model will operationally improve policing delivery to the public.
Garda Superintendents are also understood to have raised concerns with the Garda Commissioner at a meeting this week around severance packages for its members, the lack of promotional opportunities with a reductions in senior officers, and the lack of consultation.
The Policing Authority has also supported the new model, and said that when implemented it should result in an increase in garda resources and greater autonomy at divisional level, which will make it possible to better respond to the specific needs of the local community.
A move to a divisional policing model was a key recommendation in the Garda Inspectorate’s ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’ report.
In their assessment the oversight body said that the “current structure is highly inefficient and a move to a much smaller number of divisions would release significant numbers of members and garda staff from administrative work back to front-line duties.
“With the recommendation to move to a divisional policing model, the Inspectorate believes that the divisional chief superintendent should have full responsibility for all aspects of policing. This includes full authority over the deployment of all personnel (members and garda staff) within their division,” the report added.