More than 80 garda detectives are to stop providing armed cover on a 24/7 basis in the Cork region amid claims they have been left vulnerable by garda management’s refusal to give them proper training and equipment to tackle gangland crime or terrorist attacks, writes Sean O’Riordan.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has told garda management, that, from July 1, detectives will no longer provide armed cover around-the-clock, which is likely to lead to gaps in service provision at certain times of the night.
Since 2011 the GRA has been seeking the same training and equipment for Cork-based garda detectives as has been given to the Special Detective Unit in Dublin, whose members are equipped with bullet-proof shields. That unit was issued with the shields so they could provide armed cover when the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) was not working in the Dublin area.
The GRA call for the same shields to be issued in Cork was sparked a few years ago by an incident in the Minane Bridge area, 25km south of Cork City, when a uniformed garda risked his life to save three children by taking off his bullet-proof jacket and using it to shield them from a man who was shooting at him and his colleagues.
Garda John O’Neill, who is stationed in Bandon, used his protective jacket to assist the children as gardaí are not equipped with bullet-proof shields.
GRA Cork City Garda Division secretary, Detective Padraig Harrington, was involved in the same incident and gave Garda O’Neill his vest and a spare one so he could wrap one around each of the three children, all aged under seven, and get them to safety.
Det Garda Harrington said that last May, on foot of GRA concerns, garda management agreed to train detectives “in the use of Sig 9mm pistols and ballistic [bullet-proof] shields”.
Last September, 25 detectives received the training, but then it was discontinued by garda management.
Det Garda Harrington said the training was carried out in Cork over a two-week period and it would take just four more weeks to train the remaining detectives, each of whom would undertake a two-day course.
At the same time, the GRA applied for the roll-out of the bullet-proof shields to detectives in Cork, but to date none have been supplied by garda management.
“As of July 1, we will not co-operate with providing 24/7 armed cover as it is in breach of the working time directive and health and safety [legislation],” said Det Garda Harrington. “We are only seeking to be brought in line with what the Special Detective Unit has in Dublin.”
If management does not agree to the GRA’s demands it will withdraw the full-time cover its detectives have been operating in Cork for the past 20 years.
The decision will have wider implications because armed detectives from the Cork City Garda Division have attended serious incidents in north and west Cork, as well as in Co Kerry and South Tipperary.
Senior GRA officials have been informed of the threat of withdrawal of 24/7 cover and are expected to raise the matter with senior garda management including Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.
Garda management has announced it intends to create an extra armed Regional Support Unit in the Cork area, however the GRA believes it will take a considerable amount of time to carry out interviews and for the selected gardaí to complete 12 weeks of training.
Det Garda Harrington estimated that, as a result, it might be at least next January before that new unit becomes operational.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner