Ireland will intensify police patrols along the land border with Northern Ireland as the end of the Brexit transition looms, in a bid to prevent organised crime groups exploiting the new trading regime.
The plan to boost border policing came as Micheál Martin’s government told business to make final preparations for new customs, food and animal safety checks that will be required to trade with the UK — and warned that the introduction of such checks on January 1 could lead to congestion around Dublin Port, the country’s biggest.
Ireland’s police force, the Garda, said it has already increased the number of officers posted to the border region by 20 per cent since 2016, the year of the UK referendum to leave the EU.
Although there will be no new checks on cross-border trade because of the Brexit protocol to keep the seamless frontier open, the Garda plans to create roving checkpoints in the border region as the new arrangements take force over the new year.
“We are very conscious that any change that will come into place has the potential for organised crime groups to try and take advantage of that,” Liam Geraghty, a Garda superintendent, said in Dublin.
He added: “People living along the approximately 500-km border will see an increased Garda presence over the coming days. Members of [the force] will not be posted on the border, will not be manning permanent checkpoints or guarding infrastructure.”
Mr Geraghty said the Garda had no intelligence about specific threats and he did not say how any criminal groups might seek illicit profit from the new regime.
Northern Ireland will continue to apply EU internal market and customs rules so frictionless trade can continue with the Irish Republic, necessitating new Irish Sea checks on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The reintroduction of checks between the republic and Britain, which were scrapped with the EU single market in 1993, has led Dublin to recruit 1,500 new officials while building new IT systems and infrastructure at ports and airports.
Officials have developed special traffic plans to manage congestion around Dublin Port, which is near the city centre. The port has said new checks will be required on some 900,000 UK cargo shipments each year as a result of Brexit, up from 200,000 annual checks on current non-EU trade.
Gerry Harrahill, director-general for customs in the Revenue tax authority, said 95 per cent of Irish companies importing from the UK and 96 per cent of exporters had registered for customs.
But many had left it until the last minute amid uncertainty in the Brexit trade talks, with more than 3,500 companies only taking out customs registrations in December.
“Change is happening. Things cannot and will not stay the same. Businesses need to understand the new reality and be able to engage with that reality,” he said.
“If your goods are stopped for customs, agri or food safety checks, you should expect that this will take time. You can’t simply drive off a ferry that arrives from the UK and leave the port in the way that you can today. That is an unavoidable new feature of trade with Great Britain.”