New armed garda unit already on emergency standby for 'high probability' of gangland feud attack
*Feud 'definitely still on' *Gardai receive intelligence of planned assassination of senior figure *Unit providing 'armed response' at Dublin Airport *Also awaiting orders to assist in operation against Kinahans
The new armed garda unit launched last week is already on emergency standby amid what is termed a "high probability" of further attacks in the deadly Hutch-Kinahan feud.
While it had been thought that the feuding had been wound down after the murder of innocent Dublin City Council worker Trevor O'Neill (40) in front of his family in Mallorca in August, sources said the feud was "definitely still on".
Last week, gardai received intelligence of a planned assassination of a senior figure in the Hutch organisation by the south Dublin-based Kinahan gang.
The new Armed Support Unit of 55 gardai has been tasked with providing an 'armed response' at Dublin Airport and is based in a disused office building at the airport complex. This is to meet EU security directives following the Brussels Airport attack in March in which 32 people were killed by suicide bombers.
But the unit's main role will be to assist Dublin gardai to counter the warring gangs in the capital. As the Justice Minister and the Garda Commissioner were publicly launching the new unit last Wednesday, it was already awaiting orders to assist in an operation directed against the core of the Kinahan operation in Dublin.
No weapons were found in a series of raids last Thursday morning, but gardai believe the high-profile operation helped prevent further attacks. Members of the new unit were on duty for the operation under the guidance of the Emergency Response Unit, the specialist armed assault unit which has been in operation since the 1990s.
Garda sources in Dublin last week said there were continuing plans by the Kinahan gang to "wipe out" the remaining Hutch gang members.
Since the feud broke out in Dublin in February following the murder of Gary Hutch by the Kinahan gang in Spain in September last year, 11 men, mostly associated with the Hutch gang, have been murdered.
One garda source said that while some regarded the establishment of the new armed unit as a "PR exercise", gardai involved in policing the inner city and the main feud locations welcomed its establishment.
The source said: "They [the gangs] have exactly the same equipment as our boys and we know they were going to use those machine-guns and AK47s. To tell you the truth, the main worry is that another garda is going to be killed."
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan last week apparently ruled out the idea of generally arming the gardai, but sources in Dublin said the policy may have to be revisited if a garda was murdered in the course of his or her duty.
"There are guards in Dublin and all round the country from what I hear that are afraid every day. They are coming up against people they know have guns and high-powered stuff [weapons] like the ERU lads have," the source said.
Gardai in Dublin said the high-profile armed unit did provide a deterrent value but there were concerns about the carrying of high-powered assault rifles and machine-guns in busy areas. However, it is accepted that with the large number of firearms held by gangs there is no option but to provide a similar response.
The last time members of the Emergency Response Unit were involved in a fatal confrontation was in May 2005 when they shot dead two armed robbers, Colm Griffin (33) and Eric Hopkins (24), while they were raiding Lusk post office in north Dublin. Hopkins and Griffin were part of a gang used by the IRA to carry out hijackings and robberies.
At the time of the shooting, there was exasperation among gardai about what was seen as lack of support for the officers who confronted and shot the raiders.
On hearing news of the deaths, one senior garda was said to have commented: "I was afraid something like this would happen."