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Superfast saloons to help gardai beat rural raiders


FLEET UPGRADE: The ERU will be trading in their Mondeos for super-quick Audis, BMWs and a range of high-power 4X4

FLEET UPGRADE: The ERU will be trading in their Mondeos for super-quick Audis, BMWs and a range of high-power 4X4

FLEET UPGRADE: The ERU will be trading in their Mondeos for super-quick Audis, BMWs and a range of high-power 4X4

Undercover garda squads targeting criminal gangs who have been preying on rural communities are set to get some serious horsepower.

More than €700,000 will be spent on 'specialised' high-performance undercover vehicles capable of outpacing the organised gangs of robbers.

The armed units already have a selection of armoured and high-speed cars, but most are concentrated in Dublin where the cash-rich drugs gangs have access to powerful saloons to evade surveillance.

Now, the same tactic will be deployed around the country in areas most affected by late-night raids and home invasions - carried out by low-level, but increasingly ruthless, gangs.

No details of the make and models of the new cars are being revealed, but the €700,000 figure was revealed in a recent speech by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in the Dail, while she was outlining proposals for the new policing authority bill.

The garda's Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the armed unit attached to the serious crime and terrorism sections, already has access to powerful executive saloons, as well as armoured Range Rovers, BMW X5, 4X4s and BMW 7 series cars.

An armoured BMW X5 costs around €150,000, but these vehicles are used mainly in situations where the gardai anticipate that they may come under fire from armed gangs.

Armoured cars are generally ineffective in hot-pursuit situations, not just because of the added weight, but also because larger ones like the Range Rover have limited range because of heavy fuel consumption.

The ERU and their partner group, the Reconnaissance Unit, have a stock of unmarked vehicles also, including BMW 3 series and 5 series cars, Toyota Land Cruisers, Audi Q7 4X4s, Isuzu D-Max, Land Rover Discovery and other 4X4s.

The Government has been pouring money into the garda fleet after years of neglect which saw almost half the fleet in a semi-derelict state, and regular complaints by representative associations about 'unsafe' vehicles often with around 300,000km on their clocks.

Since coming into power, the Government has allocated €29m to upgrade the fleet with some 370 new cars coming into service this year.

Confirming the sum set aside for the 'specialist' cars, the minister for justice said it was intended they would be used 'in responding to current and emerging crime threats, including those perpetrated by highly mobile gangs'.

It has taken years for the garda to come to terms with the increased levels of speed on the country's greatly improved road network, including the new motorways.

Around Dublin, the force is well-equipped to deal with mobile crime. The use of helicopters with night-vision and tracking equipment working with mobile units has made it possible for gardai to increase the number of interception operations against gangs in the Dublin area.

But in rural divisions, gardai have been frequently left in situations where they are driving ageing vehicles in pursuit of stolen high-performance cars, frequently driven at reckless speed.

There is no indication that the garda will follow the lead of other police forces and equip some of their motorway units with sports cars, like Porsches, routinely used around Europe.

There is no need in Ireland, a source said, to emulate the Gulf State police which employ super cars including the 300kph Lamborghinis.

Sunday Independent