ONE of the signal achievements of the founders of the young Irish Free State was the establishment of a largely unarmed and citizens' police force, An Garda Siochana. That achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that the early days of this State were racked by civil war with armed incidents persisting well beyond its formal end in 1923.
Policing, the world over, is about a trade-off between ceding authority to the police and the upholding of citizens' individual rights. Such a relationship involves an inbuilt tension, which means that police are not often universally loved.
But a comparison of An Garda Siochana with other police forces reflects very well on our Irish police men and women.
The absence of a large gun and live ammunition dangling from their belts is emblematic of the fact that Ireland truly has a citizens' police force.
But today we learn that increasing sections of the Garda Siochana are now armed. This does not mean that An Garda Siochana has suddenly morphed into the NYPD.
It does mean that, increasingly, our gardai are required to face up to people armed with guns and prepared to use them.
These evil and unscrupulous people include crime gangs who range about the country and also groups who lay claim to being so-called 'republican dissidents'.
It would be extremely unjust and unwise to allow our police men and women face up to those threats without the necessary equipment. It is a lamentable situation but we must be realistic about it.
The happier news amid all this is that the numbers of gardai actually carrying firearms will remain restricted. It is to be hoped that our armed officers are given adequate training and that this training is frequently updated. The still better news is that, for the vast majority of Irish citizens, there will be no change. Most gardai will remain unarmed.
Establishing an unarmed citizens' police force was a great achievement of this State's founding fathers. Maintaining this force without resort to firearms is a continuing credit to the individual members.