Michael Carty: 'Time for regional Armed Response Units to tackle gang killers'
Two murders in the space of 24 hours in our capital this week should concentrate minds on the brutal reality of gangland crime, and how complex the role of gardaí has become in keeping the peace.
We recently heard the call at the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) conference, which followed a similar one by delegates at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) conference, for the establishment of a 24-hour Armed Response Unit (ARU). Both will be welcomed by all citizens who subscribe to and believe in the rule of law.
Naturally, there are those who for one reason or another are not in favour as they perceive it as arming the force. But, in fact, it is a long way from creating an armed police force in that it comprises less than 1pc of the total Garda strength.
It will undoubtedly give reassurance to the public in general and rural communities in particular and significantly minimise the risks to unarmed front-line gardaí.
Essentially, it augments the capability of the Garda to deal with armed criminals or instances where reliable intelligence suggests serious crime involving firearms is anticipated.
At present, the ARU strength amounts to 24 personnel per region. Based on a 24/7 service, this represents a mere five armed gardaí on duty in each region at a particular time. Clearly, this falls well short of an effective armed response and an increase is required.
While I agree with the main thrust of the GRA submission, I am of the view the ARU should be organised on a regional basis and deployment decided by the regional commissioner based on up-to-date intelligence.
Consideration must be given to matters such as security, storage and maintenance of the firearms and ammunition. The running of the unit should be the sole responsibility of a member of no lesser rank than inspector with extensive experience and training in the management of such a unit. Rigid control and discipline are vital elements.
Moreover, I would recommend a fully equipped indoor firearms range be constructed in each regional headquarters. This facility should have the capacity to provide ongoing firearms training for the ARU members and should incorporate a tactical training facility. All units should be required to undergo centralised training at the Garda College in Templemore where new innovations and techniques should be incorporated in the training programmes.
A regional unit should also have a tactical adviser as a member of the team to aid senior officers in decision-making during major events and to provide planning capability for operations.
Reports suggest that the setting-up of the unit at the Border is being delayed due to selection and training matters. This is, in my view, understandable and a sensible and professional approach.
Not everyone is suitable for membership of an ARU. The selection process should be rigorous and spearheaded by senior personnel from the national Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and ideally with input from external forces and the Ranger Section of the Irish Army.
The key to the operational effectiveness of such units is training that replicates real-life situations the units are likely to encounter. The objective is to create team spirit, for effective team work is a vital element for operational efficacy. Essentially, the work of such a unit will involve danger, complexity and skill.
Against the background of the escalation of terrorist activity by the so-called New IRA, the ATM thefts, the eruption of gangland feuds, this is a time for rational, careful thought by Garda management and avoidance of knee-jerk solutions
Surely action is required when a father pushing a buggy can be gunned down in broad daylight while decent law-abiding people are going about their business. And decisive determined action at that.
Michael Carty is a retired Garda Chief Superintendent and former Head of the Emergency Reponse Unit