FIREARMS training for garda anti-terrorist officers has been cancelled for the rest of the year due to budget cuts, the Irish Independent can reveal.
All gun range sessions for members of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), which spearheads the war against dissident republicans, were officially postponed from yesterday.
They are not expected to re-sume until next year.
The Special Branch's 200-plus officers, who regularly face heavily-armed terrorists, had been required to take part in live firing training with their Sig automatic pistols three times a year.
But sources have revealed that the firearms training unit has no money to run any more courses.
It is understood garda management cut back on subsistence and overtime allowances paid to training specialists for travelling to military ranges around the country used by gardai for gun practice.
An internal notice informed Special Branch officers last week that: "Due to financial restraints on firearms training unit, SDU range dates are cancelled for rest of 2013."
It is understood that in addition to training costs, management also want to save money on ammunition.
However, senior sources claim that cutbacks in firearms training have also been imposed on most other armed members of the force, with the exception of the Emergency Response Unit and the Regional Support Units.
"These cutbacks will be all right until another garda is shot like Adrian Donohoe or is involved in a shooting incident," a garda source told the Irish Independent.
"If a lack of firearms training is to blame for something going wrong, who will take the blame?
"All these cutbacks are risking members' safety and making it almost impossible to do this job."
Before the extensive cutbacks in resources, all armed officers had to take part in range practices three times a year in order to qualify to carry a firearm authorisation card.
If an officer did not have the required number of range practices, he or she was barred from carrying a gun.
However, that rule was changed over the past year as a cost-saving measure.
Gardai are now required to complete only one range practice session using live ammunition each year.
A programme to replace the SDU's ageing Uzi machine guns with new Heckler and Koch MP7 machine guns is also understood to have been cancelled.
In addition, sources said many of the elite unit's fleet of unmarked squad cars have been re-assigned to stations around the country – even though the IRA terror threat is still classified as being "high".