Wednesday 21 August 2019

Thin blue line the main defence to Isil attack

€382-a-week garda 'mules' our first line of defence against Isil-style onslaught on Dublin

First contact: Rookie gardai will likely be the first to respond to an Isil-style attack in Dublin's city centre
First contact: Rookie gardai will likely be the first to respond to an Isil-style attack in Dublin's city centre

Jim Cusack

Gardai armed only with pepper spray are most likely to be the first to respond should a serious terrorist attack take place in Dublin city centre or any of the country's entertainment, retail or busy commercial centres, sources say.

These uniformed gardai - not all carry batons - would, as their first priority, shepherd victims to safety under what is said to be unofficial instruction from experienced senior officers who, sources say, are more often than not swamped with paperwork, mostly to do with budget and administration work.

The uniformed 'mules', would also be the most important initial response element as they will be the first to be able to officially identify the location of the terrorists and direct further, hopefully armed, responders to the correct positions.

The first armed element to respond would be from the two dozen or so armed 'ordinary' detectives who are on duty around Dublin at any given time, usually members of district task force units. They use unmarked cars and would drive at speed towards the locations and attempt to shoot the terrorists and save lives. They carry semi-automatic handguns. Sources said last week that there is a shortage of good cars for these units and some would find themselves in "wrecks".

They would be quickly supported by a similar number of armed members of the Garda Special Branch who are also on duty, including at least one unit of their Emergency Response Unit which is equipped with assault weapons.

The Army's Ranger Wing and further garda specialist ERU teams would take quite a bit longer to arrive. The soldiers would have to assemble in the Curragh and be picked up by the available two or maybe three helicopters from the Air Corps' Baldonnel Aerodrome. A Ranger Wing unit of maybe eight soldiers in full body armour with a variety of weapons and explosives would be flown to central Dublin and a suitable landing site cleared for their arrival.

Most of the 129 people who were killed in the Paris attacks died within the first 20 minutes of the assaults on six locations at the Stade de France and the city centre restaurant and entertainment areas. If a similar attack was mounted here by a similar number of terrorists (seven were killed in Paris and possibly two escaped), the injury list would be at least similarly high in the initial phase of the attacks.

One garda source told the Sunday Independent that "bravery and quick wits" are the best and only main response by the initial unarmed and then lightly armed gardai at the scenes.

The action movie version of highly-armed tactical police and army units landing on rooftops from helicopters to rescue hostages and eliminate terrorists is not a likely scenario in any response in Ireland. The gardai have two helicopters unsuited for such use and the Air Corps has eight, but some of these are likely to be out of commission for servicing. Up to about 15 years ago, the Air Corps had no real troop-carrying supply of helicopters.

There are plans for major terrorist incidents but very few of the initial 'security' responders will have received any appropriate training. This, sources say, is a result of what is widely seen as a major neglect on operational training in the past decade and an over-emphasis on what is termed 'gimmick' policing such as the use of the two-wheeled electric scooters known as 'Segways' which are purely for visual effect in shopping precincts. Some unarmed gardai would probably find themselves having to use bicycles as the most efficient means to get through traffic to the scene of a potential mass murder. It's safe to say gardai would be among the early dead.

Altogether, there are around 35 members of the Army's Ranger Wing and a slightly larger number of trained ERU gardai. On a busy Friday night like that in Paris, Dublin city centre would almost certainly descend into chaos and gridlock, preventing quick access to the killing scenes for these 'elite' units.

In Paris, the heavily armed police from the Brigade Research and Intervention unit, the equivalent of our ERU, were quickly on the scenes, reportedly taking only 15 minutes to arrive at the Bataclan theatre where most of the killings (89 dead) took place. But Paris had five other serious terrorist incidents, including the January Charlie Hebdo murders, prior to the November 13 attacks and its emergency response teams were apparently well prepared.

The failures in garda training in recent years to respond to deadly attacks is due, sources say, to a collapse in training generally following the hasty intake of 2,000 additional gardai under the last Fianna Fail-led coalition and the subsequent impact of the present Government's spending cuts after the economic collapse.

Gardai also say there is "little interest" in senior management levels about training as there is an overemphasis on career-oriented gardai studying for academic qualifications. The force now has a slew of officers with academic qualifications but very few senior police capable of actual on-the-ground leadership.

Elements of the Defence Forces have been taking the prospect of a marauding terrorist attack (MTA) very seriously and members of the Army's Ordnance Corps ran an international course last week, paid for by NATO, for foreign military who are also planning for such events. The Irish Army's Ordnance Corps, with its decades of experience in dealing with the IRA and loyalist terror groups during the Troubles, were thought of as the go-to organisation for many forces as major terrorist attacks began in the West.

Military and police sources say the key deterrent is intelligence on the prior activities of the extremist Islamist elements. The Garda Special Branch has the primary role in this but it has been beset by cutbacks, causing severe problems in mounting proper surveillance on suspects.

One source told the Sunday Independent that those suspects who "come across the radar" are most often transient figures among the mainly Sunni Muslim population in Dublin. "We hear about them but they're here only a couple of months maybe and then they're gone. We haven't a clue where they are most of the time," one source said.

One source became angry over what he said was a "total lack" of interest in policing at a political level in Ireland. He pointed out that some of the early garda responders would be the rookie guards fresh from training college. These new recruits, he said, were on an average salary of €382 a week.

"They'll be killed for little more than they would get on the dole," this source said. "That tells you all about what the Government thinks about policing. Maybe if it happens, things will change."

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss