Rise in garda death threats causes alarm
Members of the force blame lax sentencing for increase
THREATS to garda lives are happening at an extraordinary rate in Dublin, with a bomb attack on a family home, gardai followed to their homes by known criminals, stolen cars being driven at them, and explicit threats like bullets sent to them in the post all reported this year, according to senior sources.
Gardai say there was no surprise at the uncovering of the plot to kill Sunday World journalist Mick McCaffrey, along with one of the leading detectives in Dublin and a witness in a criminal trial, which led to six arrests last week. All six were released on Friday night after three days of questioning. The man at the source of the threats was returned to custody in Midlands Prison where he is awaiting trial, and the three women and two other male associates were released pending a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions on whether or not to bring charges of conspiracy to murder.
In what gardai see as a remarkable turn of events, the officers subject to threats are now being issued with the same forms that are issued to criminals who are under threat in gangland feuds. The 'garda information forms', known as GIMS, officially advise of a threat to life or safety and give broad personal security advice. They are known in the force as "cover-your-arse" forms.
The threats to kill gardai are increasing alongside a rise in assaults on gardai in the course of their duty. It is understood around 800 gardai are being assaulted annually, but official statistics are not being released. The Garda Press Office was asked on November 1 for figures, but has not responded.
Cork South-West TD Michael McCarthy, brother of Garda Representative Association President Damien McCarthy, has twice asked for figures in the Dail, but has yet to receive a reply.
He said yesterday: "The recent surge in threats to gardai from gangs is a deeply concerning development which serves to reminds us of the grave situations gardai on the coal face of policing are regularly exposed to. These recent incidents bolster the case for specific legislation to be introduced which would award special status to members of An Garda Siochana."
Gardai say that part of the reason for the rise in threats to their lives is the failure of the courts to impose stiff sentences in cases where gardai have been assaulted. In one recent case where a man threatened to kill a garda, the 28-year-old violent criminal actually continued to make threats in court, calling the prosecuting garda a "dead man" and a "lying scumbag" and making throat-cutting gestures in court. He received a two-year suspended sentence.
The criminal in question is an associate of a man who held customers in a Clondalkin bar at gunpoint with a sawn-off shotgun, which he also pointed at two gardai who arrived at the scene and who managed to overpower him and seize the gun. There was a severe threat to lives in the incident, as the man later admitted he had been taking cocaine and alcohol for two days straight. He was sentenced to seven years.
Both men are also associates of a gang which is suspected of detonating a bomb under the car of the family of a garda detective in Clondalkin on October 29. The bomb caused damage to the car and the front of the house and could have killed or seriously injured anyone in the immediate vicinity. The house was occupied by the parents of another detective in the Garda National Investigation Bureau who had successfully prosecuted members of the gang.
Another garda, who retired last week, had bullets sent to his home by members of a drugs gang with dissident republican links based in the Bluebell area last year. The gang is regarded as seriously dangerous and is linked to a number of murders.
It has also been learned that only last Friday night another attempt was made to ram gardai by a young criminal driving a stolen 4x4 in the Cherry Orchard area. The car crashed into an unmarked car with members of the Special Detective Unit inside and then collided with another car being driven by a man whose children were in the rear seat. Gardai had to deploy the 'stinger' string of metal spikes, to burst the car's tyres, to end the rampage. A man was arrested and is to be charged.
Gardai said last week that threats and attacks like these are "a way of life" in the city. "You are expected to take all this. Look at the way guards are assaulted all the time. We are expected to take this as part of our job."
Another said: "The way it is now, it is par for the course for a guard to expect to get a few slaps or a kicking in the course of duty, and the courts accept that. It is very rare for a court to hand down anything more than a suspended sentence, if that."
He pointed to one case where two gardai were bitten by a woman, drawing blood in both instances, and the sentence handed down was the Probation Act.
In his last attempt to elicit information about the level of attacks on gardai, Deputy McCarthy tabled a question on Thursday asking Justice Minister Alan Shatter how many prosecutions there had been under Section 19 of the Criminal Justice Order Act, which refers to assaults on gardai. He was told the figures were not available but are being compiled by the Central Statistics Office.
He had previously asked for the same information in October and was told the information was not available.
The Sunday Independent asked the Garda Press Office on November 1 how many cases had come before the assaults and injuries unit in the Garda Human Resources Department but was given no reply.
Mr McCarthy said: "This is an issue that is of serious concern to me and it is one that requires decisive action. We've had one too many incidents of gardai being assaulted in recent times and therefore it's imperative that the Minister introduces appropriate legislation as soon as possible."