As the Irish border stalemate continues to threaten the progress of Brexit talks, Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said any infrastructure along the border would send a message to “violent dissidents” and be a “further rallying call to drive their recruitment”.
He told the Commons Brexit select committee: “They have a focus on this. They see it as an opportunity.
“If there is no infrastructure, there is nowhere for protest, criminal damage or indeed terrorist attack, but obviously violent dissident groups see this as an area which is contentious which will give them a further rallying call to try and engender support and try and drive their recruitment.”
The police chief stressed a terror threat remains in Northern Ireland.
He said: “We still have a severe terrorist threat here in Northern Ireland and this year there has been four attempts on the lives of police officers, we’ve had numerous shooting and bombing incidents here as well.
“There is a threat that doesn’t often make it into national press. That threat exists.”
He added the force had dealt with 58 shootings and 33 bomb incidents in the past year alone.
DCC Harris also raised concerns about post-Brexit security cooperation between the UK and Europe.
He said: “The systems are for a safer Europe. It is not a one-way street. We have a lot to offer our European partners after Brexit.
“We are unsure of what the landscape is going to look like going forward. Our responsibility is to do our very best to maintain the safety of everyone on this island.
“That has to be backed up with legislation and policy which allows intelligence and evidence to be shared quickly.”
Meanwhile former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain warned any hard border arrangement would risk destroying the peace brought about by the Good Friday Agreement.
He said: “A hard border on the island of Ireland would play into the hands of those seeking to destroy the peaceful settlement achieved by the Good Friday Agreement, which has provided relative stability for 20 years and put the horror and terror behind us.”
Yesterday in the Commons, Independent MP Lady Hermon warned the Prime Minister against pushing forward with her “no deal is better than a bad deal mantra” over fears of a return to the period of armed stand-off and bloody conflict that killed thousands between 1968 and 1998.
Speaking in the House of Commons during the EU Withdrawal Bill debate, Ulster MP Lady Hermon warned “utterly ruthless” dissident republicans would target border officials if Northern Ireland was blocked off from the Republic.
Theresa May is still trying to negotiate the deadlock and is believed to be working through the night in order to have something prepared by the time European Parliament president Donald Tusk makes his Brexit statement at 6.50am GMT tomorrow.
On Monday, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) scuppered the tabled deal over concerns about Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status.
The DUP said the proposals, which aimed to avoid a “hard border” by aligning regulations on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, were not acceptable.
Dublin insists it will not agree to any deal that includes a hard border, something Mrs May seems keen to ensure.
Yesterday the Prime Minister spoke to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP leader Arlene Foster but does not appear to have made any concrete progress, with Westminster, Dublin and Stormont refusing to back down on their demands.