HEAVILY armed members of the gardai's special intervention squad, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), are gearing up for a key role in preventing a cross-Border terrorist attack during the G8 world leaders' summit in June.
The ERU will be deployed in patrolling Border routes into Northern Ireland, including the network of waterways that could be used to launch attacks on politicians and top economists.
The summit takes place at the Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh.
A team from the ERU was put through its paces yesterday on the River Liffey as they prepared to rescue "hostages", who were being held by an armed group in the ESB's decommissioned generating station at Pigeon House Road on the southside of the city.
A full-scale rescue operation will be carried out today by the ERU alongside members of other special intervention units attached to other European police forces.
It is part of an exercise organised under the Atlas network, which was established in the wake of the 9/11 terror atrocities in the United States to boost training and share experiences among police in the EU and ensure a co-ordinated approach if there was a real-life large-scale terrorist attack involving two or more member states.
Simultaneous events will be held in nine countries, involving attacks on key infrastructural facilities in Austria, Slovakia, Italy and Ireland, on various forms of transport in Belgium, Spain and Romania and on naval vessels in Norway and Latvia.
The overall scenario, central to all exercises, deals with the threats posed by a fictional terrorist organisation, the Global Liberation and Revenge Army.
Anti-terrorist forces from several jurisdictions, including the UK and the United States, are involved with the PSNI and the gardai in intelligence gathering and planning protection for the summit.
Apart from dealing with the threat posed by dissidents groups based on the island, the gardai are also liaising with other forces on the possibility of an attack by international terrorists.
The ERU is called out to around 200 firearms operations annually and is deployed on more than a hundred VIP duties a year.
It has a manpower strength of around a hundred and members undergo a stringent selection process, with a 95pc failure rate.
Its officers are equipped with Heckler and Koch MP7 machine guns and Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistols and they also have access to Benelli 12-gauge shotguns and Heckler and Koch 33 rifles.
The unit was formed in 1978 and is part of the Special Branch.