Tom Brady: Rise in armed violence makes this the right call
DESPITE some initial opposition to the introduction of uniformed garda units carrying firearms, this has dissipated since the concept was brought in on a part-time basis.
There was general agreement within the garda force for the setting up of RSUs (Regional Support Units) outside Dublin with a remit to tackle incidents where there was a threat to life or the possibility of an armed confrontation.
The move also allowed the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), which is a full-time squad within the Special Branch, to concentrate more on what is described as the "high end" section of armed crime and to target active dissident republican figures and members of organised crime gangs.
But in certain quarters within the force, notably among members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, it was felt that the RSUs should be manned solely by officers from the detective branch, thus maintaining the differentiation between it and the uniformed branch.
After a lot of discussion, a compromise was reached where RSU members could carry out uniformed patrols, with their guns and bullet-proof vests in the boots of their vehicles.
Then, when a call went out for an armed response to an incident, whether it was a robbery or a house siege, the members became armed gardai.
The deployment of the RSUs in the five regions outside the capital is now accepted as a good move and there are no longer fears that the force, which has enjoyed a proud tradition of always being an unarmed force, could lose that position within the community.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan first mooted the idea of arming the RSUs permanently at a conference early last year and said he would consult his senior officers before reaching a decision.
Now, for the first time since police officers from the Royal Irish Constabulary patrolled the streets, uniformed members of the force can from today carry guns permanently.
But they will continue to use markings that distinguish them from other uniformed members and there are no calls within the force to extend the use of firearms.
In tandem with this move, it is intended to reduce the numbers overall who are licensed to hold firearms.
This will be done without impacting on the availability of guns for the detective branch.
The ERU is still regularly deployed around the country on special operations, particularly in the fight against terrorism and to provide the firepower when taking on organised crime gangs.
But it had been obvious for some time that a local squad should be available for call-out as an armed response if an incident arose.
As the concept has evolved, it has become clear that the rise in armed incidents, and the ever-present threat from dissident republicans, has strengthened the need for armed response units in every region.