Relentless cutbacks are destroying crime-fighting effectiveness and morale of force, say senior sources
DEEP anger began setting in among frontline gardai yesterday as the details of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe filtered out and the search for his killers got under way. Senior gardai were angry, saying they had been predicting such a murder for years.
Two separate sources pointed to a case in south inner-city Dublin in February 2003 when a garda patrol car came under fire from a man armed with a military-grade automatic shotgun.
The 23-year-old gunman fired five shots, three of which struck a squad car during a chase in the Bluebell area.
Garda cars descended on the scene and the gunman, carrying the shotgun, and two associates fled on foot. When an armed detective confronted him, the man aimed his shotgun – which would have caused devastating injuries – until the detective fired a shot over his head and he dropped the weapon.
By the time the DPP had considered the file and the case came to court, the man was charged not with attempted murder, but with possession of a firearm with intent to "cause harm".
He received a four-year sentence. With the standard 20 per cent remission, this meant that a dangerous criminal who had opened fire on a squad car containing two unarmed gardai with a weapon normally used for killing on a battle field served just over three years.
The gangster and his two associates, one of whom appeared in court charged with allowing himself to be carried in a stolen car, were involved in the 'Crumlin-Drimnagh' gang feud, which has led to almost 20 deaths in the past 12 years.
The man who appeared in court, Wayne McNally, is currently serving 13 years for shooting a doorman who refused him entry to a nightclub in west Dublin in September 2008. The doorman was critically injured but survived. McNally had 55 convictions prior to this offence.
A third man in the car, who escaped from the scene, was Garry Bryan. He was shot dead as part of the feud in September 2006.
The four-year sentence for the man who wielded the automatic shotgun shocked gardai. There had been a tradition in the Republic whereby anyone who attacked a garda, in any degree, faced severe punishment.
Gardai of a previous generation remembered stories where gardai had taken the law into their own hands when they were under murderous attack from the IRA in the early days of the State.
The tradition had continued, but within the law, whereby an attack on one garda was an attack on the whole force and would not go unpunished.
Many gardai point to a second episode in November 2007, when Garda Paul Sherlock was shot and critically injured after being lured into an ambush in the North Wall area of Dublin. Garda Sherlock was shot in the side at close range with a shotgun and suffered so severely that he was off work for over two years.
No one faced the courts for the attempt on his life, the first time in memory that such a crime had gone undetected and unpunished.
As gardai considered the murder in Dundalk of Det Garda Donohoe yesterday a deep anger began setting in and officers repeatedly stated that the State – "Government, the Department (of Justice), the courts" – had turned their back on the increasing dangers facing gardai.
Since the shooting of Garda Sherlock there have been repeated instances of gardai coming under fire or being threatened with guns by robbers who, senior detectives say, are almost inevitably "coked-up".
Cocaine is used widely by armed robbers because of the sense of invincibility and heightened reactions that they believe it bestows on them.
The drug, when used repeatedly or in high doses, also caused unpredictable and paranoid behaviour – the type of behaviour that seems to have been displayed by the robber who shot dead Det Garda Donohoe on Friday evening.
The murder could not have come at a more depressing time for the force, sources said. Earlier last week, they had been informed of further cutbacks, seriously hitting earnings for gardai doing frontline policing. The cuts have also deeply affected the level of policing that can be carried out.
Despite recent successes against drugs and robbery gangs, sources say there is now a large amount of investigation into serious crime that is being severely hampered by cuts in overtime and other allowances.
Senior garda sources say there is now a sense that the force has retreated in the face of serious crime and what they say is an all-pervasive lack of respect for their uniform.
Every day, cases of assaults on garda come before the courts and, it is said, the outcome is inevitably light sentences – normally suspended sentences or even less.
Armed robberies are a frequent occurrence throughout the country, with bands of robbers roaming out of Dublin, throughout Leinster and beyond, seeking easy targets.
The Lordship Credit Union in Jenkinstown, outside Dundalk is precisely this type of "soft touch". With assets of only around €5m, it is one of the smallest credit unions in the country and normally only €10,000 to €15,000 would need to be lodged on a Friday evening at the end of the week's business.
But even such a small amount as this is likely to attract the gangs who have access to weapons and a driven motive to get cash.
Gardai say some of these robbers are people who have debts to major drugs gangs and who face death themselves if they cannot repay. Desperate men like these are likely to do desperate things.
Gardai were yesterday sifting through a wide range of possible suspects in the murder of Det Garda Donohoe, among them the "dissident" republicans from around the border area.
But high among the suspects are members of gangs from the northside of Dublin who are known to have been carrying out robberies in Louth and Meath in recent years and who are still at large, several of them on bail.
Some garda anger yesterday was directed at the fact that this situation has been worsening for years and has been allowed to do so. They say the constraints placed on policing in the past year, due in very large part to the troika-driven cuts to public spending, have most severely impacted on the gardai because their job – as shown on Friday night – is to put their lives on the line.
Cuts which have been in place for the past year have hit crucial units in the force whose job is to target dangerous criminals.
The Garda National Surveillance Unit (NSU), which played a pivotal role in targeting and catching major crime gangs involved in tiger kidnappings and armed robberies, is said to be virtually frozen in its work.
Sources say that its gardai are often directed to return to their headquarters in Dublin at 1pm and stay there until 2pm, then return to the Harcourt Square depot before 5pm so as not to incur the "subsistence" allowances for meals or any overtime.
The effective use of surveillance units, gardai say, entails them remaining in situ in order to build up intelligence on the target gangs.
The NSU played the primary role in tackling gangs such as those led by brothers Wayne and Alan Bradley and their since-murdered associate, Eamon Dunne, who were caught red-handed, along with three other gang members, as they tried to rob a cash-in-transit van in Celbridge, Co Kildare in November 2007.
The NSU spent nine months building up enough intelligence on the movements and habits of the gang to be able to put in place the plan which led to their arrest in a combined operation with the Emergency Response Unit.
A great deal of the operation against the gang involved round-the-clock undercover surveillance.
One of the main reasons for the rise in the marauding gangs who carry out home-invasion burglaries around the country, gardai say, is because there is no overtime to mount surveillance.
Aside from the national garda units, sources paint a similar picture in garda districts with high crime rates and the presence of major drugs gangs. District detective units with knowledge of suspects and local intelligence sources are also under similar straitened work regimes.
This is leading to serious frustration among senior officers who have to direct detectives and gardai to effectively drop investigations into very serious crime.
These district gardai also have close relations with local communities and have the added burden of "letting down" law-abiding local people by their failure to arrest and charge criminals and drug dealers.
The impact of the cuts to policing budgets was outlined in a recent article in the Irish Independent by retired Chief Superintendent Mick Carty, the officer who helped create the Garda's Emergency Response Unit.
He pointed out that the Republic is the only country in Europe not currently recruiting police and now faces a hiatus of at least three years before any recruits can become operational. He also pointed out that in a number of countries where the IMF has been called in, police numbers are being increased in anticipation of an upsurge in social disorder and crime.
Mr Carty described political claims that the Republic has a high ratio of police to population as "spin", pointing out that there is one garda per 319 persons here, compared with Finland (one police officer per 143 of population) and Scotland (one to 299), Norway (one to 22) and Denmark (one to 225). In other countries, the police also do not have responsibility for anti-terrorism, immigration and traffic, whereas An Garda Siochana has.
Senior sources say the cuts this year are likely to be a defining point for many operational gardai as they experience not just cuts to their salaries but also the frustration of being unable to conduct proper investigations.
The result, they say, will be the continuing trend in all forms of crime rising and rates of detection in serious crime decreasing.