Sunday 18 August 2019

Gardai call for 24-hour armed units across the country as gang feuding spreads

Vicious: A fire-damaged house in Loughboy, Mell, Drogheda, Co Louth. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Vicious: A fire-damaged house in Loughboy, Mell, Drogheda, Co Louth. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Targeted: Scorch marks and a broken window could be seen at a house in Scarlett Crescent, Drogheda. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Elaine Keogh

Gardai working in the border are set to back a motion calling for an Armed Support Unit (ASU), operating around the clock, to be established in each of their Garda divisions.

Audacious raids on ATM machines near the border as well as the ongoing criminal feud in county Louth are among the reasons why gardai in the Northern region, which comprises the border counties, want the extra armed resource.

There are regional ASUs in Louth and Donegal but the GRA representatives in the border region want them to also be based in Sligo/Leitrim and Cavan/Monaghan divisions.

At its annual delegate conference, which starts today, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) will debate a motion from the Sligo/Leitrim representative Ray Wims for the 24-hour cover.

He said, “local detectives are issued with firearms for their personal protection and not to provide the armed support needed for checkpoints or armed and knife incidents.”

Uniformed gardai are only equipped with anti-stab vests, pepper spray and their batons which he says, “is totally insufficient for policing the kinds of incidents now regularly occurring in the Sligo Leitrim Division and Northern Region, so the deployment of appropriate Armed Support Units in each division in the Northern Region is now evaluated as imperative by the GRA Divisional and Regional Committee.”

Targeted: Scorch marks and a broken window could be seen at a house in Scarlett Crescent, Drogheda. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Targeted: Scorch marks and a broken window could be seen at a house in Scarlett Crescent, Drogheda. Photo: Caroline Quinn

In Louth, where the ongoing feud has resulted in high visibility armed patrols for months, CEC member Derek O’Donoghue said, “frontline members need and deserve more armed cover. Members should go about doing their job, not being compromised, and having the armed resource available anything of the day without constraints”.

He said gardai in Louth, “have dealt with explosives and firearms finds, the threat of ATM thefts - which was prevented in Carlingford, guns being discharged in Dundalk and Drogheda, pipe bombs and petrol bombs and that’s only since January this year.”

In Cavan/Monaghan, where two ATM raids have taken place, CEC representative James Morrisroe said, “One only has to look at recent criminal activity in the border region as a whole to realise that it inevitably will be a uniform frontline member that will be first on the scene of many serious incidents.”

“Such incidents can occur at any time of the day or night. Armed units provide invaluable assistance and backup to these members and indeed the public as a whole. Certainly we in the Cavan Monaghan Division will be supporting this motion.”

Brendan O’Connor, from the Donegal division said gardai there also back the motion.

“The ASU in the Northern Region are an integral part of the policing response to threats posed by feuding criminals in Drogheda, the spate of cross border ATM thefts and the activities of subversive groups in the NorthWest. The challenges are immense and the risks very real to frontline members.”

He said, “the only effective solution is to ensure that armed cover is available in each division.”

He said the ASU is also called on to provide armed back up at, “what appear to be increasing numbers of violent domestic incidents where lives are in danger, mental health related incidents where licensed firearms are a consideration and various planned searches carried out as part of ongoing investigations into drug supply and ordinary criminality.”

Today, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that criminal activity on the streets of Drogheda will not be tolerated by him or by the gardaí and that additional resources will be deployed to Drogheda and Louth to tackle the situation.

Speaking to Radio Kerry, during a visit to Kerry for Citizenship Ceremonies in Killarney on Monday and ahead of the GRA conference that kicks off today, he said that he has been "fully briefed" on the Drogheda situation and has spoken with Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris and members of his senior management team over the weekend about the unfolding situation in Drogheda.

"I am concerned about the situation in Drogheda. I visited Drogheda at the turn of the year where I met with local garda leaders, local community leaders and public representatives and I have been fully briefed on the situation.

"This type of criminal activity will not be tolerated by gardaí or by me as Minister for Justice. I spoke to Commissioner Drew Harris before the weekend and members of his senior management team over the weekend and I am satisfied that every effort is being made," he said.

Minister Flanagan said additional resources have already been deployed to Drogheda and the Louth Division and that in the comings weeks, as more gardaí come out of Templemore, they will be deployed to the region.

A garda operation in underway in Drogheda, known as Operation Stratus, and that this operation is designed to take a small number of people who "seem to have no regard for the law" off the streets.

The National Bureau of Criminal investigation (NBCI) from Dublin and the armed response unit are working with local gardaí to tackle the situation.

Minister Flanagan called on the community in Drogheda to work with gardaí in order to ensure that they have the necessary evidence to get those breaking the law off the streets.

"I would appeal for the community in Drogheda and Louth to co-operate fully with gardaí to ensure the appropriate amount of evidence that is going to be needed to take these people off the streets. A community buy-in is essential in order to ensure that gardai are in a position to assemble the evidence."

He said that he understood peoples fears but that the gardaí but that he and the gardaí were keen to meet the situation in Drogheda "head on" and that they needed the support of the community to do so.

Minister Flanagan is also to speak at the GRA conference tomorrow where the issue of garda reforms will be raised.

He said that he recent scandals were "particularly bad for gardaí" but that there is an appetite for reform and that these reforms would be accelerated to ensure that by 2022, when Ireland will celebration 100 years of An Garda Siochana, that there will be a garda service on a par with "anything in the world".

He said the Government had committed "record resources" to the Gardaí of  €1.7bn to  and that more and more numbers are coming out of Templemore to assist gardaí on the streets.

Minister Flanagan also stated that there was no plans afoot to change Irish Citizenship rules given links that Irish Citizens have had to the Caliphate. He said that the granting of citizenship is done under strict rules.

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