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Gardai will have more 'street cred' with armed units

GARDAI will have more "street credibility" in areas ravaged by criminal gangs as a result of the decision to permanently arm 120 officers.

The move by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has received a broad welcome across the political spectrum.

Independent TD Finian McGrath said that the regional response units carrying the weapons would now have even more "street credibility" in embattled communities by being armed full time.

"There might only be 120 of them but they have earned the respect of the community. They have built up a lot of 'street cred' and it's good for policing because people will then become co-operative," he said.

CONFRONTATION

The Dublin North Central TD said he had come across cases around the country of armed criminals being intimidated and disarmed by Garda rapid response units.

This included a confrontation with a "local thug" just before Christmas who was shooting up cars to create fear in the community.

"He wasn't long dropping the handgun," Mr McGrath said.

Mr McGrath said he was in favour of the gardai remaining primarily as an unarmed force – with around 3,500 out of its 13,000 members licensed to carry firearms.

But he said innocent victims got a great lift when they saw armed gardai confronting people who were using weapons to intimidate their community.

"I've seen the response in the community – they are saying, 'Thank God someone is standing up to these bullies'. There are a lot of cases of families being intimidated," he said.

The five Garda regional response units were set up nationally in 2008 to deal with incidents involving armed criminals or a serious threat to the public.

But the units, one for each Garda region outside Dublin, had to patrol unarmed with their weapons locked in the boots of their cars.

They will now be allowed to carry their arms permanently, which include high-powered Heckler and Koch MP7 machine guns.

Dublin will continue to be covered by the Emergency Response Unit, whose members are also armed.

The decision to permanently arm the regional response units was welcomed by Sinn Fein justice spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn. He said the threat faced by gardai from armed criminals was real.

FRONTLINE

"Only last year, we lost a member of the force. Gardai on the frontline who are facing a violent threat have to be able to protect themselves," he said.

Mr MacLochlainn said there were two independent bodies to deal with any concerns people had about the conduct of permanently armed gardai.

"The Garda Ombusman Commission has already established itself as a strong check on any abuse of power and it's the same with the Garda Inspectors. I think the infrastructure is in place for checks and balances," he said.

hnews@herald.ie


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