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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Garda anti-terror unit slashed by 25pc

Every specialist Garda unit experiencing chronic staff shortages including forensics

Paul Williams

Published 12/04/2016 | 02:30

The number of personnel in the National Surveillance Unit has dropped by 25pc due to budget cuts and a freeze on recruitment. Stock picture
The number of personnel in the National Surveillance Unit has dropped by 25pc due to budget cuts and a freeze on recruitment. Stock picture
Incoming AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said her members were being left 'in the dark' about the nature of threats they potentially face from extremists

The specialist garda unit that secretly monitors the movements of gangland and terrorist suspects is "dangerously" understaffed, the Irish Independent can reveal.

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The number of personnel in the National Surveillance Unit (NSU), which is vital to targeting serious crime and terrorism, has dropped by 25pc due to budget cuts and a freeze on recruitment.

Security sources revealed that the unit urgently needs at least 24 officers to bring it back to its required strength of around 100 members.

The revelation comes as it also emerged that every specialist unit in the force is experiencing chronic personnel shortages, with sources warning that this will have a "detrimental effect" on the conduct of major investigations.

It is understood there is a shortage of expert officers in all the specialist forensic sections, including in fingerprints, ballistics, mapping and crime scene investigation.

A separate senior security source claimed the organisation is now operating on a "wing and a prayer" and accused management of having no succession plan to ensure that standards are maintained.

"There is a serious deficiency in the numbers of all the specialist units and what is most worrying is that there is no succession planning in place either."

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that the additional Regional Support Unit (RSU) recently announced for Dublin by the Commissioner and Justice Minister is unlikely to be operational until the latter part of the year.

It is understood that 900 gardai have applied to join the new 55-strong armed squad while another 1,100 applied to join the other 10 RSUs around the country.

But the selection process is due to be severely delayed because all 2,000 applicants will have to put through fitness and suitability tests before training can begin.

Training for the RSUs is conducted over a number of months, with sources predicting that they may not be on the streets before December.

The personnel shortage in the NSU emerged as the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) warned that frontline gardai are not being trained to tackle the threat from Islamic terrorists.

Incoming AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said her members were being left "in the dark" about the nature of threats they potentially face from extremists and vital information about such threats is confined to members of specialist units and sections at Garda Headquarters.

The NSU is trained to the highest international standards in covert operations alongside the FBI and MI5.

The undercover officers are trained to monitor targets who are already trained in counter-surveillance techniques.

The unit has been spearheading surveillance on individuals involved in the Kinahan/Hutch gangland feud and suspected IS supporters and fighters.

But sources say it must also be on constant standby to conduct surveillance on suspects throughout the country.

"The NSU is vital to all major garda operations but numbers have been allowed to fall by a quarter, making it dangerously under-staffed," a source said.

"It is the only unit that we have to monitor targets in the most sensitive of investigations and its members have a particular specialised skill set to preform that function."

The work of the NSU is described as "personnel intensive" with at least six officers required at any one time in order to maintain surveillance on an individual or up to 15 in a 24-hour period. "The demand for the unit by the rest of the force is constantly high but with the current strength it is limited in the number of suspects it can monitors and that includes individuals suspected of being involved with IS," the source added.

Irish Independent

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