Border won’t be ‘soft underbelly’ for terrorists

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New anti-terror measures will allow Border Force officials to seize the passports of people leaving the United Kingdom from ports in Londonderry and other parts of Northern Ireland and will be used to target dissident republicans as well as jihadists.

The Home Office has also promised to ensure that the border - from Lough Foyle to Carlingford - “remains effective” and does not become “the soft underbelly of the rest of the United Kingdom for those who would wish us ill or want violence in this country.”

The Government refused, however, to confirm whether it would increase the number of Border Force officials operating along the border.

It also wants to introduce new temporary exclusion powers to make it an offence for individuals subject to such orders to return to the UK without first engaging with the UK authorities.

This too, will be used against dissident republicans as well as Islamist terrorists, the Home Office has confirmed.

Speaking during a debate on the proposed Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill at Westminster, Independent MP Sylvia Hermon, said: “We have a very open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and we are the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a frontier with another EU member state.

“There is no border built; there is no wire or wall, and it is full of little lanes and easy access to the United Kingdom. I am extremely anxious to ensure that Northern Ireland does not become the soft underbelly of the rest of the United Kingdom for those who would wish us ill or want violence in this country.

“Will the Minister consider increasing the number of Border Force officials along the porous border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?”

Security and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire replied: “We must be vigilant about risks and threats that may be posed to the United Kingdom, whether in Northern Ireland or any other part of the UK.

“There is good work between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána, and the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have a clear joint interest in ensuring border security.

“Indeed, we very much consider the common travel area to be an external border, which is why we work closely with the Republic of Ireland to ensure that it remains effective and in no way goes down the path mentioned by the hon. Lady.

“The Government must maintain that sense of vigilance and focus.”

Later, during the same debate, Mrs Hermon claimed to know of an individual from South Armagh who was funding dissident republicans and expressed her hope that the new temporary exclusions powers could be used against him.

“We have an individual who lives in South Armagh - this is not in any way to criticise the people of south Armagh, who are ordinary, decent, hard-working individuals - whose land straddles the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” she claimed.

“I am not going to use parliamentary privilege to name him, but he is well known to the security services on both sides of the border and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and it is well known that he funds dissident republican terrorism.

“I would like the Home Secretary to confirm that that particular gentleman could be excluded using the temporary provision power in this new legislation. I would love to see him kept out of his territory and his land in Northern Ireland. Please confirm that he can be,” she said.

To this the Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed that such powers would be applicable in Northern Ireland but refused to comment on individual cases.

“I appreciate the eagerness with which the hon. Lady rises to refer to that case, but I have to say to her that I am not going to comment on a particular case,” she said.

“As the Minister indicated earlier, however, the Bill is not, of course, restricted in the type of terrorism it refers to, and it does refer to those who have taken part in terrorist-related activity outside the UK, but I emphasise that situations would be looked at case by case, so this is not a power that will automatically be applied to any individual who satisfies those criteria. It is a matter of looking on a case-by-case basis to determine where it is appropriate to apply this power,” she added.

The legislation is currently before the UK Parliament and whilst a measure designed to counter radicals travelling to fight in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa primarily, it may also be used to target Irish terrorists.

Four years ago a report examining the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) control of illegal weapons, goods and people found that whilst flights from Belfast City and City of Derry Airport had historically been designated low risk one flight had been identified as a weapons risk and that the authority needed to upgrade its local risk assessments.
The report by the Independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA John Vine also found considerable gaps in UKBA’s assessment of the threat of the illegal importation of weapons, drugs and people via Northern Ireland’s 320 mile land border with the Republic of Ireland along which there are 302 recognised border points of potential use to smugglers and terrorists

‘Inspection of the UK Border Agency in Scotland and Northern Ireland: Border Operations August 2010 – January 2011’ also noted a considerable risk from small air and seaports across both Northern Ireland and Scotland with just 63 of 683 threat assessments having been conducted in total and none having been conducted since 2008.

The Home Secretary split up the UKBA, creating the stand-alone Border Force in 2012.