To end the reign of the 'Untouchables' we need more armed gardaí
Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30
The ferocity and escalation of armed crime reached a new and horrific level with the fatal gun attack carried out at the Regency Hotel in Dublin last Friday. Moreover, it demonstrated a brazen affront to the rule of law. The calm determination of the attackers to seek out and identify victims and the military precision of the murder and subsequent escape should send a clear signal to the authorities that a professional and determined response is required.
Consequently, and despite the deployment of a high-visibility, citywide, armed garda operation and a focused police endeavour, these gangs were able to carry out another killing in the city three days later. So it was reassuring to hear the authorities are taking up the gauntlet thrown down by the self-styled 'Untouchables'.
Hopefully, what we are now witnessing will be the beginning of a strategy and not a knee-jerk reaction. For the recent atrocities have called into question the ability and capability of gardaí to deal effectively with organised crime.
Of major concern to the authorities should be the lack of intelligence in relation to last Friday's attack and, despite it being widely reported by the Irish Independent's respected journalist Paul Williams that further reprisals would follow from the Regency attack, these 'Untouchables' operated with impunity, buoyed by the confidence that they would evade capture.
There is some criticism that the garda response was inadequate. It is reported that the manager of the hotel made three 999 calls and then eventually, to get a response, had to contact a detective friend and it took a further 10 minutes for gardaí to arrive. By that time, the suspects had gone.
But what chance had uniformed, unarmed gardaí against hitmen armed to the teeth with AK47 assault rifles and wearing Kevlar body armour? They were fortunate they did not arrive while the attack was in progress, otherwise a garda fatality was inevitable.
In the context of the availability of guns and of recent events, a revision of policing methods in responding to armed incidents is urgently required.
The president of the Garda Representative Association, Dermot O'Brien, has stated that to protect his members a rethink by An Garda Síochána on the response to armed crime is required.
He advocates the arming and training of more units and I am in full agreement with his views.
The decision on Tuesday by the Garda to establish a 55-member armed Garda Tactical Support Unit is a welcome innovation but falls far short of what is required. For it amounts to 11 armed gardaí per Division in the Dublin Metropolitan Region.
Based on a 24/7 service, this means that just two armed gardaí will be on duty in each garda division at a particular time. Given that the DMR stretches from Swords to Bray, clearly this falls well short of an effective armed response.
Mr O'Brien also makes the point that the Garda should reconsider the decision in relation to the withdrawal of Uzi submachine guns. This was a retrograde step, for the Uzi is the weapon of choice for many police forces all over the world. It is safe, easily maintained, dependable and accurate.
Moreover, it is easily carried and it has been proven gardaí adapt well in relation to its use. The next step should be to re-issue the Uzi.
May I suggest that the number of armed gardaí be increased to at least 200 in the Dublin Metropolitan Region and 50 per region elsewhere, trained to the capability of responding to and carrying out high-risk operations involving armed robberies, hostage taking, searches and surveillance?
These units should be trained to an extremely high standard, adequately and fully equipped and should operate full-time with tight, professional managerial control.
The question will arise: where will these gardaí come from and will it result in further depletion of the men on the beat and those working in the community?
Of course it will, but the garda top brass will have to prioritise - do the 'Untouchables' take over or will they be confronted?
And I am pretty sure the response of the Minister for Justice that they should present themselves to the Garda is not a solution. May I suggest whoever advised the minister on this should be handed the P45? As TV footage at the Regency illustrated, an armed confrontation is fraught with danger and uncertainty, with ensuing chaos.
Therefore, the key to the operational effectiveness of an armed garda response is training. Training should reflect real-life situations that the units are likely to encounter and should include simulated exercises; continuous firearms training; tactical awareness training; knowledge of the legal system; map reading; unarmed combat; hostage negotiation; and surveillance techniques. The objective is to create team spirit, for effective team work is a vital element for operational efficacy.
As I have stated on many occasions, an unarmed garda force is a utopian ideal; with the gun culture currently existing in this country and the escalation in gun-related crime, sadly, it is a luxury we cannot afford.
Special measures are necessary to maintain the rule of law and protect our citizens. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Michael Carty is a retired Chief Superintendent in An Garda Siochana. He was Personal Assistant to Commissioner Pat Byrne and served overseas as a Police Advisor in the UN.