THE introduction of armed units in each garda region outside Dublin has turned out to be a good idea.
There were mixed views in the force when the concept was first mooted, but it was generally agreed that the provincial regions should not be fully depend-ant on the emergency response unit (ERU), which is based in the capital.
The ERU is still regularly deployed around the country on special operations, particularly in the fight against terrorism and when taking on organised crime gangs. But it had been obvious for some time that a local squad should be available for call-out as an armed response if an incident arose.
The divided opinions were mainly focused on who should be allocated to the regional support units (RSU) and whether the presence of squads permanently carrying arms could be justified.
Leading the objectors was the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, who believed the units should be part of the detective branch.
In a bizarre compromise, the authorities decided that the RSUs should act mainly as unarmed and uniformed gardai, but if called into action, they turned – in Superman fashion – into armed squads, quickly donning their bulletproof vests and tooling up.
As the concept evolved, it has become clear that the rise in armed incidents and the ever-present threat from dissident republicans have strengthened the need for armed response units in every region.
A review was ordered earlier this year by Commissioner Martin Callinan and the outcome, revealed in today's Irish Independent, means they will be permanently armed.
But that does not mean that the gardai are becoming an armed force.
On the contrary, the intention is to reduce the number of gardai who are licensed to carry firearms from the current total of 3,500.