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Gardai battle crime gangs in rental cars

GARDAI are battling crime gangs in Dublin – in rented cars.

The cash-squeezed force is now issuing its detectives with hire cars.

Unable to replace many of their clapped-out patrol vehicles with new models, finance chiefs in the force are turning to rental companies.

Undercover officers in two of Dublin’s busiest divisions are operating the hire cars – the same type of vehicles used by tourists. The idea is being piloted in the North Central and South Central divisons.

“In North Central our guys are battling to keep the Christy Griffin feud under control.

“Five lives have already been lost in that feud, including the latest, Stephen ‘Madser’ Byrne. Yet now some of the DOs (detectives) investigating the case are being issued with hire cars,” said a source.

“It’s the same in the south city. Some of the officers investigating Fat Freddie and the other gangsters are going around in rentals,” the source added.

A Garda Representative Association (GRA) source revealed that one rental car was clamped, as council workers had no idea it was a garda vehicle.

"What we really need is money for new cars. The Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern needs to give the force the cash to replace the terrible state the garda fleet is in," said the GRA source.

The hire cars are being used to supplement the stations' fleet of bought vehicles. Instead of buying new cars ---kitted out with the necessary communications and lights -- the force is sourcing civilian vehicles from private companies.

The cars are being driven by some plain-clothes detectives and not by uniformed gardai who continue to drive marked squad cars, according to information received by the Herald.



DECISION

No decision has been made yet on whether to extend the project to stations across the country, it is understood.

But a nationwide roll-out of the policy is being considered by senior garda management, the Herald understands.

A Garda spokesman said they were "not in a position to respond" when contacted by the Herald.

The issue of the cost of squad cars was in the news last month when it emerged more than 700 of the vehicles were bought by the State in 2006 without any discount being secured.

At that time, there was a surplus of garda cars so some of the vehicles ended up in storage for a year and a half.

An Garda Siochana bought the cars after getting a late allocation of €17m from the Exchequer. However, there was no provision for a discount in the contract with the supplier, the Ford Motor Company.

Some 300 of the 726 cars bought in the last two months of 2006 were not used for up to a year-and-a-half.

Nevertheless, gardai say they are being forced to drive around in a rickety old fleet of cars, most of which haven't passed the NCT.

Members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) recently slammed the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, after it emerged nearly half of the garda fleet is over four years old, and unsuitable for fighting crime.

Figures released by the Department of Justice stated that, on May 6, the Garda fleet was 2,014, of which 957 are over four years old.

Garda Ultan Sherlock, a member of the GRA, said that the minister's assertion last year that Ireland was the best-resourced police force in Europe was a "farce".

Garda Thomas Keane, of Ennis station, said: "Until 2008 we had a fleet of vehicles in An Garda Siochana that we were proud of. With no budget for replacement vehicles, the fleet had deteriorated rapidly."

Minister Ahern said that there had been a "sustained programme of investment in garda vehicles" amounting to some €72m in the period 2007 to 2009. He said Garda authorities were developing a request for tender with a view to purchasing more new cars this year.

hnews@herald.ie


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