CLAIMS that the introduction of pepper spray to help incapacitate violent people was “a step along the way” to arming the force were denied by Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy.
While more than 3,000 gardaí are armed, he said it was their intention to remain an unarmed, uniformed force.
Commissioner Murphy said: “I have no intention of going down the road of arming the guards. We have policed this country since 1922 as a uniformed unarmed force and we will continue to do that.”
He said they will now look at protocols which will be put in place with regard the use of the new pepper spray cans.
Mr Murphy said: “We have spent a considerable amount of time researching this, looking at health and safety and best practice in other countries, and taking on board that in Britain and the United States it has been used effectively.
Members of the Emergency Response Unit will be initially given access to the pepper spray and all gardaí will carry the spray cans within months.
He said while some Garda projects may have to be deferred due to cutbacks, it was his intention that appropriate funding is made available to frontline operations tackling organised crime, drugs and other serious issues.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said pepper spray has proven in other jurisdictions a major factor in reducing injuries to suspects as well as leading to a drop in allegations of excessive force against police officers.
He said before giving the go-ahead for the spray cans, the views and advice of the Garda chief medical officer was taken into account.
Mr Ahern said: “The decision is in line with the recommendation of the Garda inspectorate’s second report on barricade incidents which recommended that such sprays be made available to all operational members in the interest of officer safety.”
Reacting to the announcement that spray cans will be introduced, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties insisted that any garda issued with such weapons be properly trained in their use, and that the health effects of any such weapons be fully tested prior to their introduction.
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