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Officers fight plan to limit their access to firearms

ATTEMPTS to reduce the number of officers who are authorised to carry firearms are being opposed by garda supervisors.

They believe the current level of 3,600 personnel should be at least maintained, or else increased, to help the force cope with the rise in gun crime in the past few years.

The supervisors also want greater access for officers outside Dublin to long-range weapons following the withdrawal of the Uzi sub-machinegun from gardai in the provinces.

The decision to scale back dramatically on the force's use of the Uzi, which has been implemented in recent weeks, is based on the recommendations of a group set up to review the gardai's firearms strategies.

The Israeli-made weapon has been deployed by sections of the force since 1967 but its use is now confined mainly to the Special Branch in Dublin, and the number of Uzis has been reduced from 1,500 to several hundred.

It has been withdrawn from four of the five regions outside the capital where regional support units (RSUs) have been set up to act as a first response, to be deployed when the potential for an armed confrontation arises.

The move will be extended to the fifth region in the south-east as soon as an RSU has been created there.

The RSUs and the Emergency Response Unit in Dublin are all armed with Heckler and Kock MP7s, a more modern sub-machinegun, which is capable of firing ammunition that can penetrate body armour.

But the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in Ballymoney, Co Wexford, heard yesterday that many detectives around the country, who are not attached to the RSU, have now been left with no access at district headquarters to firearms, apart from handguns for close use.

Wicklow delegate Denis Reilly said there had been no basic training in firearms for some time.

"This is all due to budgetary constraints. It costs money to train people in their use and then provide refresher courses and equip them," he added.

General secretary Joe Dirwan warned that crime gangs were importing weapons from eastern Europe and these were now "two a penny".

According to the Department of Justice, a saving of €2.7m could be generated by targeting the general availability of firearms to the specialist sections of the ERU, the Special Branch, the national surveillance unit and the RSUs.

Irish Independent