Tuesday 20 March 2018

It could take 'up to 13 weeks' to train gardai for Dublin's new Armed Support Unit - AGSI

A member of the Garda ERU holds an MP7 File Picture
A member of the Garda ERU holds an MP7 File Picture

David Kearns

It could take up to 13 weeks to train gardai for a new Armed Support Unit up and running in Dublin, claims the body representing Garda sergeants and inspectors.

In the wake of an "unprecedented" escalation of gangland bloodshed, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced plans for a permanent elite Garda unit armed with high-powered weapons for Dublin.

"We will stand down this threat from these gangs," Ms Fitzgerald said as she green light a ‘saturation policing’ strategy for the capital - similar to that used to rein in feuding gangsters in Limerick in recent years.

However, the Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors (AGSI) has called the minister’s announcement “misleading”, saying that it failed to mention the plan will mean the reassignment of 55 Gardaí from frontline operational policing duties.

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“If you read the Minister’s statement, you could take from that that we have gotten 55 new Gardaí… [but] these are guards already in existence and providing a service to the public,” said John Jacob, Deputy General Secretary at AGSI.

Warning that the new response unit will lead to reduced frontline services elsewhere, he continued: “We’re taking them from operational units in stations… [and] that means they wouldn’t be there to provide a regular policing service.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Jacob said that it was likely that the members of the new ‘Armed Support Unit’ would come from units deployed already in and around Dublin.

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He went on to say that the ability for the guards to identify criminals and monitor and predicted their activities had been reduced due to reduced frontline operations.

“This whole thing revolves around the fact that we didn’t recruit for so long we lost over 2000 people in the last three years.”

Responding to concerns that the Garda had no intelligence about last Friday's audacious gun attack on the Regency Hotel, Mr Jacob admitted that if the guards knew that there was going to be a large gathering of criminals, there should have been surveillance.

“[But] if we had had unarmed Garda there, I would have been concerned for their safety,” he added.

Speaking later to Newstalk's Breakfast, Mr Jacob continued: "It will take up to 13 weeks to train these gardai.

"You can't just expect to give gardai a firearm and expect them to be experts.

"It's the same with detectives - you can't expect them to be strategically aware when it comes to policing these firearms.

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"I've no doubt these surveillance units will be out on the streets, but these won't be available for at least 13 weeks."

Speaking of Justice Minister Fitzgerald, Mr Jacob described her as an "experienced police person with experience in security and operations", but said she is not 'confident' Minister Fitzgerald is aware of the current resource issues in the force.

"From our own association's perspective, I'm not confident she understands the acute shortage of resources for frontline delivery, that's a concern of ours.

"We are disappointed we are the only ones highlighting the shortage of resources.

"The Minister and the Garda Commissioner are still saying we have sufficient resources.

"But we're talking to people on the ground and they are saying we don't have enough, that they don't have the capacity to deliver the service they want."

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