THE shooting dead of a member of An Garda Siochana while performing his duty on Friday last is a clear illustration of the dangers members of the force encounter every single day in upholding the rule of law. Moreover, this particular atrocity represents a crossing of the Rubicon in terms of the sheer heartless, vicious and psychopathic way in which it was carried out.
The manner of this killing certainly shocked the public in general and the Garda in particular. All serving and retired gardai have, and will, feel revulsion at the killing of one of their own while protecting the community. But the gardai individually, and as an organisation, are continuing and will continue their work in a determined, professional and methodical manner.
And have no doubt the perpetrators of this crime will be tracked down and brought to justice. The expertise and leadership within the Garda will ensure this. And the expertise and dedication is there in abundance. And as always, the public will rally in every way possible.
Duties such as the escort of large amounts of cash is a complex and potentially dangerous operation. The armed gang makes use of the advantage afforded by surprise and speed and is characterised by military-style precision and timing. Because the attack occurs suddenly and without warning, the escorting team will be under a considerable amount of stress when countering the attack. The problem is confounded in that the attack frequently occurs in built-up areas, where bullets fired by gardai can kill or injure innocent citizens. The criminals have no such concerns, as they have shown on numerous occasions.
Gardai selected for escort duty have undergone a rigorous training programme. This involves the use of firearms and each garda must meet a qualifying standard and be authorised in writing as to his or her proficiency and competence before being issued with and permitted to carry weapons on duty. It is also necessary to undergo refresher training a number of times each year.
Offensive and defensive driving techniques are also included in the training programme. But the central part of the training is tactics and tactical planning and manoeuvres. All this is carried out at Templemore in a specially constructed area nicknamed 'Tactics Town'.
All types of simulations are carried out and the main objective of the training is to reflect reality. Real incidents are analysed on a continuing basis and the training programme modified as appropriate. Specialist units like the ERU undergo a far more intensive training programme involving external trainers.
The circumstances surrounding the horrific murder in Louth has never been encountered in this country so far as I am aware. While the full circumstances have not as yet emerged, it appears that the gunmen lay in ambush in the dark.
It's a chilling development.
Understandably, in the aftermath of the gunning down of a garda, calls will be made for relaxing the rules governing the use of firearms by members of the force. It should be remembered that gardai seek at all times to prevent loss of life.
However, it is important to realise that facing armed criminals in an armed confrontation is usually a life-and-death matter and the possibility of loss of life is a reality. There is no time to consult a manual. For research has shown that the first person to use the gun usually survives the encounter. The killings of John Morley, Frank Hand and Jerry McCabe come to mind.
But this is a time for calm and professionalism. The Garda authorities will carry out an in-depth review of this incident and I have no doubt that quick and decisive action will follow.