Security under review in wake of attack
GARDAI are to keep protection for government ministers under review in the wake of the paint attack on Health Minister Mary Harney, particularly ahead of the Budget.
But senior officers said they were treating yesterday's incident as a separate occurrence, as the attacker was an invited guest at the sod-turning ceremony.
Ms Harney was given personal protection by her ministerial driver, who was standing beside her when red paint was squeezed on to her neck and clothes by Dublin councillor Louise Minihan.
The garda driver was also splashed with the paint, which was contained in a Lucozade bottle.
Ms Minihan, who is a former member of Sinn Fein, is now attached to the socialist republican group Eirigi.
Other members of the Eirigi party held a small demonstration and shouted abuse at the minister. They were kept back from the ceremony by gardai.
Ms Minihan was arrested and taken to Clondalkin garda station for questioning. She was released shortly afterwards.
She is now expected to be summonsed to appear before the district court if the local garda authorities determine she should be charged. Possible charges include a breach of the peace, causing criminal damage and assault.
Gardai said they were conscious of the risk posed by demonstrators when high-profile politicians appear at events, but that each case was assessed individually.
Each minister is assigned a garda driver, who is also tasked with ensuring that the politician's safety and security are not endangered. Local arrangements for general security were left to district officers, gardai pointed out.
Ironically, the role played by ministerial drivers may be changed as a result of Budget cost-saving measures.
Ministers have been examining current arrangements following public criticism of members of the Cabinet arriving in separate state cars for a government meeting in Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park.
Fine Gael's transport spokes-man, Simon Coveney, has pledged that his party will abolish the automatic right to a ministerial car and bring in car-pooling as part of its forthcoming proposals to transform the public sector.
The effects of the new cutbacks on the running of the garda force will be discussed at the twice-yearly meeting of senior officers, to be chaired by Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, at the Garda College in Templemore today and tomorrow.
The conference will be used by the commissioner and his aides to assess the existing deployment of personnel and examine what changes could be made, without affecting the service provided to the public, if fresh financial cuts are imposed.
Last year Justice Minister Dermot Ahern ringfenced a sum of €21m to be used specifically to finance Operation Anvil, which is a nationwide anti-crime initiative.