Two gardaí attached to a south Dublin station have been suspended following the incident which is being investigated as a serious security breach at what is regarded as the city’s most high-risk target for foreign terrorist attack.
In a gesture to stave off political embarrassment, the secretary general of the Department of Justice telephoned Ambassador James C Kenny on Thursday and apologised for what happened.
It is not clear if the embassy will take the matter further. The Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday it had received no formal complaint from the embassy or request to inquire into the incident.
The Department of Justice had not been asked to intervene either. A spokesperson said: “The secretary general phoned the Ambassador to apologise. He didn’t wait for the embassy to raise the issue.”
A spokesperson for the US Embassy would not be drawn on the issue. “We do not comment on security matters,” she said.
The incident happened last weekend after two armed plainclothes gardaí were assigned to accompany an unarmed uniformed garda on evening duty outside the embassy in Ballsbridge.
It is alleged that one of the plain clothes officers left his post while the other was absent on a break and went drinking in a nearby pub, leaving just one unarmed garda on duty.
When he returned to the embassy, he allegedly got into a blazing row with his plainclothes colleague before giving his handgun to the uniformed officer and driving off. He was stopped by gardaí at Ballymun on the north side of the city in the early morning and arrested on suspicion of drink driving.
Both suspended officers now face a grilling under internal garda disciplinary procedures. Abandoning a post, drinking on duty and brawling in public are all serious offences in the garda discipline code. Abandoning the standard issue handgun is also an offence which is not mitigated by the act of handing it over to a uniformed officer as only plain clothes members of the force are allowed to carry a weapon.
The suspensions come at a critical time for the gardaí who are struggling to overcome damage to the force’s image following the damning findings in the latest Morris Tribunal report.
Providing security at the US Embassy is a 24-hour job for the gardaí who have to deal with an ongoing terrorist threat as well as police the numerous anti-war protests that take place outside the building.
The building is surrounded by high-fencing, cameras and an enclosed security post.