Tough response in Limerick shows way to bring down gangs, says Garda chief
The clampdown on gangs in Limerick is an example of how the State should respond to the feud situation in Drogheda, according to politicians and senior gardaí.
Similar to a present-day criminal feud in Co Louth, the mid-west city was in the grip of a drugs gang war for a decade from the late 1990s.
However, a huge investment in Garda resources as well as in disadvantaged communities - previously strongholds of the gangs - ended the shootings and killings. The response involved deploying a dedicated armed response to help tackle gang violence.
Now, Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche, who heads the entire Limerick Garda division, said he is building on the improved resources to the city.
He confirmed he is to receive two additional armed support units (ASUs) to further complement the two presently based there. This will bring the total number of armed gardaí in the division to "approximately 70", and will see an increase in local ASU personnel from "12 to 18 members".
A similar number are attached to ASUs in Cork.
"We are about to launch a third and fourth armed unit in Limerick. It's the result of a long-term plan. It takes between six to eight months to select and train gardaí for the armed units. It's a tough process," he added.
Limerick also has two dedicated intelligence officers, attached to the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), targeting assets purchased by individuals through the proceeds of crime.
Prior to the arrival of the ASU, formally the RSU (Regional Support Unit) and ERU (Emergency Response Unit), Garda "uniformed members" in Limerick received firearms training. They were put to work on shifts, outside of normal working hours, to ensure there was an armed back-up provided in the event of a serious incident.
John Gilligan, who was mayor of Limerick from 2008-2009, said initially gardaí were completely under-resourced when responding to the feud.
Parts of the city were "lawless" and criminals "ruled the roost" prior to the deployment of a dedicated armed unit.
"They wouldn't go into Lee Estate - the ordinary gardaí in their squad cars had to wait for an armed back-up unit. That was prior to the armed response unit," he said.
"I can understand it, I pay a (uniformed) garda to go and do his job - I don't want him murdered, or facing up to armed people who are driving around shooting the place up. I want him to go home at the end of the day."
The response of the community was also key to tackling the gangs. The family of Roy Collins, an innocent businessman shot dead by the Dundon gang in 2009, led the public outcry, calling on the State to introduce anti-gangland laws.
"The ordinary citizen said they were not going to accept it. They were saying somebody better start doing something about it," Mr Gilligan said.