Northern Ireland news

Brexit plans could see mile-wide stop and search zone along border

Concerns have been raised about the impact of the planned Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill on border regions
Connla Young

Members of the public could be stopped, searched and detained within a mile-wide strip of the border under new legislation planned by the British government.

The controversial powers are contained in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill which is currently working its way through Westminster.

If the bill becomes law any member of the public could be stopped within a mile of the border to establish if they are entering or leaving the north.

The new proposals have already passed committee stage at Westminster and some observers believe could be law by Christmas - just months before Brexit is due to kick in.

Concerns have already been raised about the impact Brexit will have on border communities, travel and trade.

Under the proposed legislation an “examining officer” may question a person to determine if they are engaged in “hostile activity”.

Currently the PSNI relies on legislation including the Terrorism Act or Justice and Security Act for grounds to stop members of the public.

In the past concerns have been raised about the use of stop and search practices.

The planned new laws will also apply to train stations if “it is the first place at which a train travelling from the Republic of Ireland stops for the purposes of allowing passengers to leave”.

This means the new powers could be enforced at Newry train station which is around six miles away from the border with Co Louth.

Parts of Strabane will fall into the one-mile ‘border zone’ while outlying parts of Derry will also be affected.

Proposed legislation could introduce a mile-wide strip along the border where people can be stopped, searched and detained to establish if they are entering or leaving the north

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the bill becoming law.

Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Brian Gormally said: “Will we see a kind of militarised zone along the border, where roving patrols can stop and question any person, resident or traveller, without any kind of justification?

“We hope not, but in this piece of legislation such a scenario is expressly provided for.”

He questioned the need for the powers contained in the proposals.

“Is this a preparation for a post-Brexit 'fortress UK?'

Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane Centre, which has an office in Derry, said the proposed new powers could lead to confrontation.

“The proposal that the PSNI or UK border patrols would be randomly roaming the border stopping individuals without due cause is a recipe for disaster and confrontation and would likely lead to mass civil disobedience,” he said.

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