Wednesday 13 December 2017

Gardaí refuse to say how many officers can speak Arabic

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the International Association of Chiefs of Police forum on ‘21st century policing in the digital age’ hosted by An Garda Síochána at Farmleigh House. Picture: Collins
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at the International Association of Chiefs of Police forum on ‘21st century policing in the digital age’ hosted by An Garda Síochána at Farmleigh House. Picture: Collins
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

An Garda Síochána has refused to say how many of its officers are proficient speakers and readers of Arabic.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan would only say a number of members had proficiency in different languages, when asked by the Irish Independent yesterday.

"We also have access to translators and interpreters, who are available to us on a 24/7 basis, that we can call upon," she said.

When asked the number of gardaí who were proficient in Arabic specifically, a Garda spokesperson also declined to discuss the matter last night, citing "security and operational reasons".

The Army generally has a small number of Arabic speakers in its 'C4' Intelligence Department due to its continuous service in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East but Army Intelligence does not actively engage in intelligence gathering for gardaí.

Garda sources say the Special Branch unit responsible for monitoring Islamic terrorists here relies on American, British and Israeli assistance for intercept translations. All intercepts must go through the Garda but it is not clear how much of the intelligence gathered is shared back to Garda Headquarters,

Separately, Ms O'Sullivan said the force's Armed Support Unit (ASU) will have its number boosted by 33pc in response to the threat of Islamist terrorism, as well as homegrown gang violence. She told the public not to be scared by the presence of gun-wielding officers from the ASU on Irish streets.

Read More: Integration of Muslim community is best protection against extremists

Currently, the Dublin-based ASU has 55 members, but the commissioner said a further 20 would be in place by June 22, which she said was an increase in capacity of one-third.

"On top of that, what we have done is we have a competition under way to increase our Armed Support Unit right around the country and the regions... to make sure there is 24/7 response capability," she said. "That's to make sure that we are protecting the public. So what you would have seen with the introduction of the Armed Support Unit, you see more visible, overt, armed patrols.

"So you will see people patrolling. And people shouldn't be afraid of that, that's actually to make sure that the public are safe." She said the increase in armed members was also for the safety of gardaí.

The commissioner, responding to claims that gardaí on the ground were unprepared for an attack here, praised the bravery of members. She said any response to an attack would come in tiers, with the first including the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the ASU.

And she said training for members around the country on what the response to a terrorist incident should be is going to be increased."By the end of this month, we will have more live exercises. And that isn't because we have any specific intelligence, but I think that's the reality, that we have to have an agile response to be able to deal with incidents as they occur," she said. "Whether they are terrorist, or they're organised crime, or whatever quarter they come from," she said.

It's understood gardaí tasked in this area are armed similarly to their counterparts in London, using the Heckler and Koch MP7 with standard rounds.

Read More: Wider powers should be used to deport extremists, urges O'Dea

Ms O'Sullivan also spoke about how recent incidents have demonstrated a changing world. "We continuously review the threat assessment, we also review our response capability.

"I think what's really evident is, the world around us is changing, and if we need a sharp reminder of that it's London Bridge," she said.

She said over the last three years, and especially in the wake of the 2015 Bataclan attack in Paris, gardaí have been focused on engagement with minority communities.

Ms O'Sullivan was speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police forum on policing in the digital age, hosted by An Garda Síochána at Farmleigh House, in the Phoenix Park.

Irish Independent

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