Garda armoury is upgraded in battle against organised crime and terrorism
Gardaí are to set up a national firearms command to oversee the special units tasked with confronting organised crime and terrorism.
The national command will be created early in the new year and will mean that the emergency response unit (ERU), which operates nationwide, will be trained centrally with all of the armed response units.
The announcement was made yesterday by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan at the launch of the armed support unit (ASU), which will focus on the capital.
The 55-strong, highly trained and resourced unit will be deployed in response to firearms-related and other critical incidents.
It will also be used to back up planned operations, such as searches and checkpoints, to disrupt feuding organised crime gangs under Operation Hybrid.
Chief Superintendent Gerry Russell, who is in overall control of the ASU, said it would provide a new dynamic capability to the force to confront gangs as well as terrorists, including lone wolf attacks.
The unit has been allocated a fleet of high-powered Audi Q7 Quattro and BMW 530 estate vehicles and its armoury includes H&K MP7 personal defence weapons and Sig pistols as well as less-than-lethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray.
Officers will also be supplied with breaching equipment, ballistic shields and medical bags, including defibrillators, as well as being trained as emergency first responders.
The ASU will provide high- visibility patrolling and response while the ERU will concentrate on covert and high-risk firearms interventions against criminal and terrorist gangs. Both units are already training together on scenarios relating to sieges and other critical incidents.
Ms O'Sullivan said the unit did not mean another move away from being an unarmed force.
"That is something I am very proud of; it's a tradition and a legacy we will never give up," she added.
But she said the Garda needed to recognise the challenges of modern policing in the Republic and to have a response commensurate with that.
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the ASU was very important for the protection of people in Dublin and was comparable to those operating in other major cities.
She praised the "determined" response gardaí had already made against the scourge of criminal gangs.
"The actions of the Garda in fearlessly opposing vicious criminal elements is a true example of service and commitment to the communities which they serve," she said.
But the minister held out little hope for the promotion of six senior Garda officers awaiting upgrades before the end of the year. Most of those who were successful in competitions to fill vacancies at superintendent, chief and assistant commissioner level have been promoted since the summer.
But five superintendents and one chief remain on the list despite a spate of vacancies in key posts at both ranks. Representative associations have said the officers, dubbed the 'Forgotten Six', have the right to expect to be promoted since they were selected.
But their prospects of being upgraded before the end of the year are rapidly diminishing.
Ms Fitzgerald is to bring regulations to allow the handing over of responsibility for the promotion of senior officers to the Policing Authority before the Cabinet next Wednesday.
This will mean that the six will have to undergo new competitions along with fresh candidates under a new system next year.
It is not likely that those promotions will be sanctioned until the summer and, in the meantime, the list of vacancies will continue to grow.
The Tánaiste said yesterday that the employment control framework (ECF) had set a ceiling for staffing levels.
She said she had filled all of the critical vacancies, outlined by Garda Commissioner Ms O'Sullivan, resulting in 45 promotions at those ranks.