Friday 17 November 2017

Exclusive: 'Irish team under armed guard 24/7' - Euro 2016 chief in charge of 72,000 police

Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

The top policeman for Euro 2016 has revealed that elite armed officers will be guarding the Irish squad for as long as the team remain in the competition.

In an exclusive interview with Inspector General Luc Presson said there is no direct threat to the tournament at the moment.

However he said that while his team of 72,000 officers have taken every measure possible to prevent an attack he cannot guarantee that one won't happen.

Insp Gen Presson said: “There are policemen with every team. They are in touch with the team. These are armed police, they are elite troops. All the time, 24/7.

He added: "They will be assisted by motorcycle squads when they travel. Within the hotels there is private security and outside there is public security and policemen."

Speaking from the interior Ministry offices in central Paris Insp Gen Presson explained that the number of armed officers with each team will depend on the threat level to that national side.

Police officers on patrol at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris (AP)
Police officers on patrol at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris (AP)

He refused to say how many armed officers are shadowing the Irish team.

“The figures for the number of police with each team are not being disclosed. Depending on the the team, there is a level of security depending on the threat to the specific team.

“For Ireland, that is confidential.”

The Irish squad are based in the exclusive four-star Trianon Palace facility in Versailles. The team's rooms are in the Trianon Pavillion which is adjacent to the historic Versailles Palace.

The hotel has two gyms, a state-of-the-art health centre and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.

Most of the travelling Irish fans will not have the same level of luxury but Insp Gen Presson explained that they are no less concerned about their safety.

Soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the wake of the November attacks. Photo: Reuters
Soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the wake of the November attacks. Photo: Reuters

“Everything has been done to host, in a secure way, the event. Of course a zero risk does not exist. It will never exist in either here or anywhere else but really we are ready and we welcome everyone and we gladly do so.”

The police officer, who was also in charge of operations for the Rugby World Cup in 2007, said this event brings a number of new challenges.

First amongst these are the fanzones, where supporters are encouraged to go and watch games in the various host cities.

A number of security experts have warned that these would be an obvious target for terrorist attacks but Insp Gen Presson insists that they are safe and heavily policed.

“It's been said by the president of the Republic that France is on the hitlist of Daesh [Isil]. We know that France is one of the priorities of Daesh and other terrorist groups. But not only the Euro 2016 but also France and the main tourist attractions in France are under potential threats. So far no direct threat in the sense that there has been no sign of a terrorist attack targeting the Euro 2016.”

He refused to be drawn on the potential of another Isil attack. In January 2015 a number of journalists and members of the public were murdered when extremists targeted the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the city.

Last November 2015, 137 people were killed during a series of attacks at the Bataclan theatre in the city and also outside the Stade de France in St Denis.

Gen Insp Presson said: “As of today, nobody is capable of saying the amount of probability of an attack or not. But one thing is sure, the home intelligence is doing all its work.

“It's impossible to say what the probability of an attack is.”

Despite the fears the police officer said France is ready to welcome the estimated 70,000 Irish fans travelling to the tournament.

And he encouraged those attending games to speak with the security officers.

“France is ready to welcome all of the Irish fans. Our security personnel have been given guidebooks and are there to help guide them throughout the tournament. This is a French public image which is being put forward.

“This is one of the biggest sporting events after the Olympics and World Cup. Police and security staff are there to help above all.”

The police officer's final piece of advice to Irish fans is to get to the stadiums early before the game.

He insists that they want to make the security checks quick and painless but can't guarantee how long they will take.

“One of the Ministry's objectives is to make access very quick but there is absolutely no guarantee on the time necessary to get in.

“If you arrive three hours early, of course you will get in. But if you arrive ten minutes before it will of course be very long. But whether it is a ten minute wait or half an hour, we don't know.”

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