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Rank and file gardai 'want the force to be armed'

MORE than half of all rank and file gardai want their force to be armed.

A new online survey organised by the Garda Representative Association showed 53pc of ordinary gardai are now in favour of routinely arming all uniformed members of the force.

Many of those who voted against the move, called for more armed response units and said they should be highly visible.

The outcome of the vote is in contrast to a debate on the proposal at the association's annual conference last April when a majority of the speakers were against it.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy also made it clear at the conference that he was committed to maintaining an unarmed, uniformed presence in towns, cities and countryside.

"It is fundamental to the very nature of the policing service provided by the gardai to the community and underlies the nature of our authority and the support we receive on a daily basis", he added.

At present, one in four gardai -- almost 3,500 members -- are authorised to carry firearms on duty. A total of 159, out of more than 10,000 rank and file members, took part in the survey.

Most support for arming the force came from uniformed personnel who usually provide the first line of response when there is an incident on the streets.

One garda wrote: "It's been seen in countries like Holland, France and Spain that people don't mess with armed police.

"I think our force will be armed before the end of my service -- for our protection only".

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Another garda said: "We have been lucky so far, it's only a matter of time before a uniformed member is killed.

Weapons

"The criminal fraternity has access to the most sophisticated weapons, it's about time we had a level playing field".

But an opponent argued: "I love the fact we are the only unarmed police force in the world".

Others said they would prefer to have working radio communications and pepper spray.

The association's magazine, 'Garda Review' commented : "The results from the survey are not sufficient to change the course of history but they show a cultural shift, denying the popular statement by politicians and the media that gardai do not want to be armed".

A breakdown of the responses showed that 11 out of 15 student gardai polled were in favour of arming uniformed units, while only five out of 19 detectives thought uniformed personnel should be armed.


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