GOVERNMENT ministers have been given new security advice from gardai in the wake of a fresh wave of threats from militant protesters, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
At least three senior Coalition TDs have been targeted by demonstrators in recent weeks and in a sinister development it has also emerged hard-line republican groups are using the anti-water charges movement to recruit new members.
The former minister in charge of Irish Water, Fergus O'Dowd - who was recently escorted from a meeting by three gardai - said he has established that some of those involved in that protest had links to republican groups.
Former Communications Minister Pat Rabbite was surrounded by aggressive protesters after a recent Labour Party meeting. His Labour colleague John Lyons was also recently ambushed by protesters.
And in an indication of the seriousness of the threats to politicians, gardai have compiled detailed security advice for TDs who face attacks on their offices.
The garda document, which was seen by the Sunday Independent, is titled: 'Advice on a Security Risk Register for a Constituency Office.'
The document contains advice on dealing with threats from protesters and outlines a range of security measures that can be taken to protect offices, including:
The document also contains advice on how to deal with unannounced protests, protesters entering offices pouring flammable liquid on themselves and protesters threatening self-harm.
It also offers advice on how to respond to telephone bomb threats; search offices for bombs and how to spot explosive or incendiary material.
Sports and Tourism Minister Michael Ring, who received the garda advice, said attacks on politicians had "serious implications for democracy".
"A certain group of protesters are attempting to make it impossible to engage in normal contact between politicians and voters," Mr Ring told the Sunday Independent.
"In so far as it is practical or reasonable I will comply with the advice but I am not going to communicate with the voters through a steel grill. A constituency office is not a fortress.
"I will take all precautions within reason but I will not be deterred from performing my duties as a TD and a minister - these people will not win."
Security measures for ministers vary substantially, but a higher level of garda protection now applies across the board.
"The removal of garda drivers has evolved into a serious source of concern. Only three ministers - Justice, the Tanaiste and the Taoiseach - now have those," a senior government source said.
"There's a much stricter protocol and gardai on a weekly basis are provided with ministerial diaries."