The Regional Support Unit (RSU), which is being piloted in the Garda southern region covering the garda divisions of Cork city, Cork north, Cork west, Kerry and Limerick, will be available to support other garda units in the event of a critical incident like a hostage situation or armed robbery.
Each RSU has 24 officers trained to a similar standard as the elite Emergency Response Unit (ERU).
Most are aged under 35 and have undergone an intensive 13-week training programme in tactical deployment, conflict resolution, negotiation, entry methods, tactical driving, first aid and the use of less lethal options and firearms.
A basic RSU patrol will consist of two or three officers in a specially adapted Volvo XC70 turbo diesel marked police car carrying both lethal and non-lethal firearms in a secure box.
They will patrol as regular gardaí but, in the event of a critical incident, will change into RSU mode.
They will change into tactical clothing and will have access to incapacitant sprays and Taser shock guns, as well as lethal weapons, including Heckler and Koch machine guns and Benelli shotguns.
A garda spokesman said the tactical gear and modifications to their vehicle (including signage and lighting) will ensure that they are clearly identifiable and distinguishable from regular officers. “This unit is being introduced on a pilot basis pending review and I would like to acknowledge the support of all those involved, including the various Garda staff associations,” Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy said.
“The units will provide tactical and firearms support for our frontline officers responding to critical incidents and will enhance the overall level and extent of service that we provide to the communities we have sworn to serve, through a multi-purpose, skilled and well equipped group of personnel.”
The units were recommended by Garda Inspector Kathleen O’Toole in her review of the Barr tribunal, which examined the shooting dead of John Carty in Abbeylara, Co Longford, in 2000.
The RSU will be piloted for some months, followed by a review.
If successful they will become permanent and the green light with be given for units in other regions.
The main Garda associations, which have expressed concern at some aspects of the units, will conduct their own analysis of the pilot project.