Sunday 20 October 2019

Garda commissioner announces new armed support unit to patrol border from next week

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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A new Garda armed support unit will become operational along the Border from Monday.

The delay in setting up the unit has been a key part of the criticism of the perceived lack of resources allocated to gardai in the Border divisions in light of the growing terrorist threat from dissident republicans, the security fall-out from a hard Brexit and last week’s savage attack on Quinn Industrial Holdings director Kevin Lunney.

Read more: Detectives probing Kevin Lunney attack hunt for white Transit van

This will be the third armed support (ASU) to be located on the Border and it will be based in Cavan.

The existing units are located in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, and Dundalk, Co Louth, and it is intended that this move will fill the gap in armed back-up in the region.

Announcing that it would become operational on Monday, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said today that an extra 20 gardai from the next class to graduate from the Garda College would also be sent to the Cavan-Monaghan area.

But he denied there was an imbalance between the additional resources being allocated to garda chiefs on the Border and the response from the PSNI.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said he was putting an extra 190 officers along the Border.

Both men were speaking at the annual cross-border crime conference, which is being attended by senior operational commanders from both forces in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

Commissioner Harris said that over the past two years the number of personnel assigned to the Border region had increased by 150 and 600 new gardai were emerging from Templemore this year bringing the overall strength of the organisation, including civilian staff, to 15,000 by the end of December.

The spotlight on Border resources has intensified over the past week following the brutal attack on QIH director, who was abducted from his car outside his home and held hostage for almost two hours last Tuesday while he was tortured and mutilated.

Both police chiefs pledged that “the rule of law” would prevail and nobody was above the law.

Mr Harris denied suggestions there had been a failure on the part of his force in their inquiries into more than 70 incidents linked to attacks on QIH and its personnel since 2011 or 2012.

He said there had been arrests and files prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions but none had resulted in criminal charges.

He said his officers were now reviewing all of the information and intelligence that had been gathered in previous inquiries to establish if any of it could be useful to the investigation into last week’s “savage” assault on Mr Lunney.

Mr Harris said there was no shortage of resources allocated to the Lunney investigation and personnel from Cavan-Monaghan were being supported by the garda national units.

He said people should be assured that the gardai were there to protect them. He understood that people could be afraid to come forward but said it was crucial that anybody with information that could help the inquiries could pass it on in strict confidence.

In a new appeal, Mr Harris asked for help in identifying a white high roof Ford Transit type van that had been used by the abduction gang in the transport of Mr Lunney during his ordeal.

The van was in a poor condition with a “screeching” fan belt and had red paint on the floor.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan disclosed that the government was taking a fresh look at how the security costs for the visits of US president, Donald Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, earlier this year, would be funded.

It was initially proposed that the costs from the Garda overtime budget, which has already been exhausted and has resulted in an overtime ban until the end of the year, except for big operations.

The two visits combined cost between €15 and €17m and Mr Flanagan said he was now reviewing how it should be paid and that progress had been made.

The PSNI chief constable said his officers were studying the contents of a BBC programme in which former priest, Paddy Ryan spoke about his involvement with the Provisional IRA.

This would determine whether his comments warranted new action by his force.

Mr Flanagan said any extradition warrant issued as a result of the programme would be a matter for the courts.

He pointed out that the European arrest warrant system, which has simplified extradition processes between EU countries in recent years, would no longer apply to the UK if Brexit went ahead on October 31.

Before attending the conference, Mr Flanagan visited the QIH headquarters at nearby Derrylin and was briefed on the Lunney attack and previous incidents.

He said “no stone will be left unturned” to bring those responsible to justice .

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