Senior gardai vote in favour of uniformed officers carrying guns
GARDA supervisors have come out in favour of arming specially trained groups of uniformed members of the force on a full-time basis.
The move, if adopted by the authorities, would mean that the force would lose its traditional status as an unarmed force -- a policy that has been in place since its foundation.
Gardai argued that members of the newly established regional support units (RSUs) should carry arms round the clock, rather than the existing guidelines where they remain in uniform on patrol until they are called to a critical incident, switch into tactical dress and take out weapons from the boot of their vehicle.
They said the current rules should be changed because of the increase in armed violence and the growing threat to the safety of gardai. The move stemmed from a motion, tabled by delegates from five divisions, at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) in Co Galway.
Despite strong objections from the association leadership, the conference voted by a majority in favour of the change. This now becomes association policy and the leadership will raise it with Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
However, it was quickly rejected by Mr Murphy who said that as long as he was commissioner, uniformed gardai would not patrol the streets while carrying guns.
He said he was not averse to a review of the RSUs, which were established two years ago, despite some criticism of the decision from within the organisation at the time.
But he did not intend to turn them into a full-time armed and uniformed group.
Mr Murphy said he could call on the detective branch and the specialist units when he needed back-up armed support in an operation.
But uniformed gardai would not be sent out with guns to routinely patrol the streets.
RSUs operate in the southern, eastern and western regions. Members are in training for a fourth unit in the northern region, which includes the Border, and a fifth will be set up in the south-east.
The conference had heard earlier from a Cork-based member of the southern RSU, Rory O'Dwyer, who said there had been an incident in his city where his unit was deployed but there had been a delay in getting changed into their gear and the unarmed, uniformed gardai had got there first.
"The rapid response capabilities of the RSUs are diminished by the delay going into armed mode," he argued.
Westmeath delegate Blaithin Moran said there was no point in the RSU driving around on patrol with a boot full of firearms and ammunition.
"If an incident occurs when on patrol and they are attacked, all they have to defend themselves with are a pepper spray and a baton," she added.