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  1. ITV Report

No-deal Brexit could lead to increased attacks on Northern Ireland police, country's top officer warns

A no-deal Brexit could increase the risk of attacks on police officers in Northern Ireland, the head of the country's police force has said.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said the force may have to ask for additional officers from the UK if there were any changes to way the the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is currently policed.

He also warned that policing the 300 crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is "just not practical".

The government has committed an extra 300 officers to Northern Ireland to cope with Brexit, but Mr Byrne wants to double that number to bring the number total number of officers to around 7,500.

Currently, the PSNI employs around 6,750 officers.

  • ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith says PSNI chiefs have spoken out "so starkly" over Brexit as the stakes are highest in Northern Ireland and any negative outcomes could "drive people into the hands of the terrorists".

Mr Byrne questioned why the government, who has committed to recruiting and additional 20,000 officers in England and Wales, had not pledged to increase police number in Northern Ireland.

He said: “At the end of the day the Prime Minister made a commitment in England and Wales to increase the headcount of police officers by 20,000 – when will we see our share here?

“Brexit feeds into this. We have had a support, which we are grateful for, to increase nearly 300 more officers to deal with some of the most immediate problems with Brexit but, at the end of the day, we can only speculate how this is going to play out.

“In the medium term, if I am going to provide a policing service which the public in Northern Ireland have quite clearly said needs to be about more visibility and more people on the ground, I frankly need more officers to do that and my plea is to have our share of what is happening in England and Wales.”

Simon Byrne said it was “just not practical” to expect his officers to police 300 border crossings after Brexit Credit: David Young/PA

Mr Byrne added that officers could face an increased risk of attacks if a no-deal were to go ahead.

His warning comes after bombers tried to lure officers to their death near Wattlebridge, close to the Irish border, on Monday. Police sources said the bomb may have been carried out by an IRA splinter group.

"Firstly, there's a practical issues," Mr Byrne said. "As people will know, we have over 300 crossings between the two countries. How on earth are my officers supposed to police that effectively?"

"Secondly, if we go back to Monday, that was in an isolated, rural location that does lend itself to ambush and plots to kill and injure my officers.

"If people have done it once, will they have the confidence if we are drawn into those sorts of communities?"

Mr Byrne has called on the Government to fund the recruitment of around 750 new officers in Northern Ireland Credit: Niall Carson/PA

During the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June 2013, the PSNI drafted in 2,500 officers from other UK forces. A month later, 930 mutual aid officers were called in to help police disorder around the loyal order parading season.

He said the PSNI would initially be relying on its own officers and support from the Garda.

“The first thing is, before we go to that point, we have got to demonstrate to others we have run out of people,” he said. “We are nowhere near that point at the moment.

“The second point is, before we talk about mutual aid from other parts of the UK, it’s about making sure we have a good working relationship with the guards on the other side of the border.

“I was only speaking to the commissioner (Garda Commissioner Drew Harris) yesterday and we are determined to do all we can to make sure that day-to-day life continues as it has done either side of the border post-Brexit.”