Minister claims there are more officers in force now than at the height of the northern Troubles
LESS than 24 hours after the point-blank murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe outside Dundalk and in the week that 95 garda stations shut down across the country, embattled Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday insisted that gardai "have all the resources they need" to tackle serious crime.
He defended his controversial "smart-policing" initiative which has led to the dismantling of much of the garda station network, sparked protests from communities nationwide and damaged morale within the ranks of the national police force – now coming to terms with its darkest day since the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe 17 years ago.
Mr Shatter said people did not realise that there were now more gardai on the frontline than at the height of the northern Troubles.
As the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), which represents mid-ranking gardai, became the first union to walk away from the Croke Park talks which are designed to cut the State payroll bill, Mr Shatter insisted that he had the support of the garda leadership.
"The gardai have all the resources they need to deal with this murder and other areas of criminality and the commissioner would have said this very publicly at an event the two us attended on Thursday morning," he said in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent.
"The gardai have very, very substantial resources. They are engaged in smart policing. We are ensuring that as many members of the force as possible are engaged in these areas of crime prevention and crime detection and gardai are not unnecessarily engaged in desk jobs that can be done by civilians."
Mr Shatter has been accused by Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins of "arrogance" and "presiding over an unprecedented dismantling of our garda force".
But Mr Shatter insisted: "We have more than 2,000 civilians employed within the garda force. Of course, all of the focus of An Garda Siochana will be on bringing these people to justice. It often is not realised that we have more members in the force today than we had at the height of the Troubles.
"The sad reality is that we will always have bad people. We will always have people who are intent on criminality, we will always have people intent on seeking financial gain without any respect for others and quite clearly on Friday night we had people who were prepared take the ultimate step of taking human life to secure financial gain for themselves."
Asked if this was his darkest day as a minister, he said: "It's a dark day for An Garda Siochana, it's a dark day for all of us who respect the bravery and courage of the garda force.
"We yet again had a brave member of the garda force losing his life doing a job to protect the community. It's a dark day for everyone.
"This was a brutal and callous murder of a brave member of the force. Obviously in the first instance I want to convey my condolences to his family, his wife Caroline and his two children and his extended family.
"This is a shock for all members of the force. It's an event that should never have happened, it was carried out by individuals who have no respect for human life and area simply engaging in barbaric conduct that is completely unacceptable.
"I know the gardai have the over-riding support of the general public in bringing these people to justice and, of course, they have the full support of the Government.
"I have been in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner since shortly after this event happened and I know that the gardai are doing everything possible to identify the perpetrators, track them down and to ensure that appropriate charges are brought before the courts."
Clearly shocked by the murder, the Fine Gael minister said it was his understanding that Det Gda Donohoe was shot at very close range before he had said a word.
"All my information is that Det Gda Donohoe was armed but as I understand it he was given no chance to draw his weapon.
"Individuals emerged at the credit union. A car drove up at the credit union and before the two gardai had a chance to ask a question, Det Gda Donohoe was shot at very close range. Quite clearly, he had no chance. He was given no chance. These were individuals who, as I have said, had no respect for human life."
Mr Shatter said it was too early to identify the background of the individuals involved.
"It could be a gang engaged in basically criminal terrorism who claim to be dissidents but who are individuals who simply have their own personal agenda. These people have no substantial support among the Irish people, neither North nor South.
"Or it could be organised criminals who are not claiming to fly the Tricolour. We don't know yet for sure the background of the individuals and I don't want to prejudge or pre-empt anything that might come to light in the investigations."
"There is, of course, a very close relationship between both police forces and I know that that very shortly after this tragic incident the gardai and the PSNI were in direct contact with each other," said Mr Shatter.