Brexit impact on land border could destabilise communities, says ex-PSNI chief Hugh Orde

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in Co Fermanagh. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The implications of Brexit on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic have the potential to destabilise communities and increase pressure on police, a former PSNI chief constable has said.

Sir Hugh Orde said he hoped that “political failures” around the consequences of leaving the EU were not used as an opportunity by people who wanted to return to violence.

Sir Hugh led the PSNI between 2002 and 2009, after the force replaced the RUC in 2001.

Sir Hugh Orde said it was ‘blindingly obvious’ Brexit would cause issues with the Irish border Credit: Paul Faith/PA

Delivering the Seamus Mallon Memorial Lecture at Ulster University in Belfast, the former police chief said the complications around a land border post-Brexit were “blindingly obvious” before the referendum in 2016.

He said: “The border between the north and south, that enjoyed a degree of constructive ambiguity facilitated by shared membership of the EU is a cause for deep concern.

“Since the vote to leave took place, the utterly foreseeable complications based on a land border have come to the fore.

“It is not for me to comment on the tactics deployed by the different political parties to deal with the current arrangements that were agreed by the Government during the leave negotiations, but the fall-out has in my judgment the real potential to destabilise communities, increase tension and inevitably put additional pressure on policing.

“The lack of local governance clearly doesn’t help.

“Trying to fix a problem that was so blindingly obvious to anyone that had the most basic understanding of what leaving the EU would mean post-event will be difficult, bordering on impossible in my judgment.”

Sir Hugh said concerns he had raised about a hard border ahead of the referendum were dismissed as “scaremongering”.

He added: “I hope the uncertainty created by these political failures are not seen as an opportunity by that tiny minority who want to drag us backwards.

“What I do know is that the men and women of the new, well relatively new, PSNI will be there to protect all the citizens of this wonderful place to the very best of their ability, and continue to play their part in what is still, in my judgment, a fragile peace.”

Sir Hugh also said he was not optimistic on an agreed way forward being found to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

He said: “I continue to watch for progress on this most challenging of issues but remain pessimistic that an organised way forward to happen any time soon.”

The Government’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is going through its parliamentary stages, would prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.

But it has been widely opposed by parties across the political divide in Northern Ireland, as well as all victims groups.

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