Gardai fear prosecution for using firearms in battle against armed gangs
Gardai fear that opening fire on armed criminals will land them with a "lifetime" of paperwork and possible serious charges.
Experienced officers also warn about the potential dangers for society if gardai are forced to back away while criminal and paramilitary gangs kill and maim at will.
Concerns were heightened last year after the indefinite extension of the Government's inquiry into the shooting dead of an armed Republican gang member in Ashford, Co Wicklow, in May 1998.
Gardai are concerned the Oireachtas is going down the route of the British government, whose inquiries into fatal shootings involving police or soldiers led to two soldiers being charged over shooting dead an armed IRA man in Belfast in 1972. Some 300 cases are being brought in the North by relatives of IRA members and Catholic civilians, in most cases supported by Sinn Fein-related community or rights groups.
Armed confrontations were a frequent occurrence in the 1970s and 1980s and retired officers are also said to be wondering if some day they will be called before an inquiry or possibly a court.
The Government ordered the inquiry into the Ashford incident in response to a European Court direction that the original investigation into the killing of Ronan Mac Lochlainn was inadequate. He was part of a gang armed with an AK47, an automatic assault shotgun and a large calibre revolver.
One retired detective told the Sunday Independent: "People forget but it was mad in the 1980s with guards chasing criminals and Provos all the time and getting in gunfights. That's what's going to happen now. They know they can get away with it and the guards know if they shoot back they will be up before GSOC, or the (Policing) Authority or the (Garda) Inspectorate or Internal Affairs."
Another said: "Any guard who fires a shot will spend the rest of their time in the job writing."
The term "writing" is used for the preparing of statements, in this instance in defending the use of a firearm in a situation that could lead to them facing criminal charges up to and including murder.
The Ashford Inquiry was set up by the Government in August 2014 with Mary Rose Gearty SC as sole member to investigate the circumstances of the killing. It was given a budget of €350,000 and was to report in six months.
In June 2015 it was extended again and the budget further increased to €627,000, then last year to €850,000.