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Monday 19 February 2018

Paul Williams: Garda Commissioner's knee-jerk reaction is just spin and optics - and wont' protect our regions

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

Paul Williams

THE announcement by the Garda Commissioner that 20 additional officers are being recruited to increase the size of the Dublin-based Armed Support Unit (ASU) is more about spin and optics than security.

Until yesterday, there had been no mention of considering an expansion of the 55-strong ASU which was established in the capital late last year in response to the upsurge in violence caused by the Kinahan/Hutch gangland feud.

So, while it is to be welcomed of course, this is obviously a knee-jerk reaction by Garda HQ prompted by the fact that Rachid Redouane, one of the three London attackers, had lived here unnoticed for a number of years.

On Tuesday, the Irish Independent described as a game changer the fact that this is the first time a direct link has been established between this country and an act of Isil terrorism elsewhere in Europe.

An inevitable consequence is that it has drawn unwelcome international scrutiny on our State security infrastructure from our increasingly jittery neighbours.

Many experts have described Ireland as Europe's weakest link in the security chain.

Yesterday's announcement will do little to assuage the concerns of a public which has lost faith and trust in the commissioner and the way she runs the force. The Garda's top tier of management is seriously fractured, as witnessed last week in the PAC, when the senior civilian public servants were so obviously in conflict with each other and the commissioner.

Split

And then there is the wellknown fact that there is a serious split amongst some of the force's uniformed most senior management which is divided into two camps: between the commissioner and her inner circle, and the rest.

The sudden rush to be seen to be doing something was no doubt influenced in no small way by the frank and honest warning by representatives of rank-and-file garda and their mid-ranking supervisors that they have received no training to deal with terrorist attacks of the type being played out with such bloody frequency on the streets of neighbouring EU states.

It is equally interesting that we are suddenly boosting resources 24 hours after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald told us the State security services had enough resources and training to do the job.

However, the commissioner and her boss are fortunate that even in the absence of specialist training, our brave men and women in blue - whether armed with a gun or a baton - will be prepared to run towards the trouble and not in the opposite direction.

There is little doubt that if there was a major incident in Dublin like what we saw in London last weekend there would have been plenty of armed officers to respond, but can the same be said for the rest of the country?

The truth behind the Garda HQ mantra is there have been unfilled vacancies in all of the other five Regional Support Units (RSUs) around the country for several months.

A shortage of personnel and resources has also meant that the RSUs rarely get the time they need to continually update their specialist training.

The events of the past weeks and months illustrate that this State needs to fulfil its security obligations to both its citizens and its neighbours.

Instead, whenever the deficiencies in the security infrastructure are highlighted, we are bombarded by denials and spin from commissioner and minister.

Scourge

The Irish Independent's campaign to highlight the scourge of rural crime two years ago is a case in point.

For months, the two women with responsibility for law and order denied there was any problem: journalists were briefed that this was scaremongering by this newspaper and blown out of proportion.

But when thousands of ordinary citizens turned up at public meetings to voice their genuine anger that they were at the mercy of travelling crime gangs, the tune suddenly changed. Then, just like yesterday, an operation with the trendy title `Thor' was launched with an extra €5m in cash.

The question is: if there was no problem in the first place, why the need to do anything?

Now that we are faced with the prospect of another much more menacing type of threat (and we sincerely hope that is all it is) then the narrative changes to suit the spin and optics.

And everyone sits back and hopes nothing happens.

Paul Williams is also a presenter on `Newstalk Breakfast' each morning from 7am to 9am.

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