The controversial policy was passed at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), despite the opposition of the body’s national executive.
But Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy immediately rejected the call, saying no members in uniform would carry firearms.
The policy was adopted at the AGSI conference in Galway after a motion calling for regional support units (RSUs) to be in armed mode on a full-time basis was passed by delegates.
The motion, put forward by five branches, said the move was needed “because of the increase in armed violence in society and health and safety considerations of members”.
RSUs are specially trained squads but are deployed unarmed on normal policing duties.
It is only when they receive an order that they can change into RSU mode. This involves a uniform change.
To access their weapons they open a secure compartment in the boot.
Speaking for the motion, Sergeant Rory O’Dwyer from Cork City, a member of the Southern RSU, said: “There is a health and safety issue for unarmed gardaí who arrive first at the scene and it is happening throughout the country. The rapid response capabilities of the RSUs are diminished by the delay going into armed mode.
“It cannot be regard as best international practice to be loading and breeching firearms in public places in full view of men, women and children.
“It’s not acceptable for me, for you or for any of our colleagues and indeed members of the public who are in urgent need of assistance to hear ‘yes the Regional Support Unit are on their way, but they are going to be delayed for a number of minutes while they change uniforms and access their equipment’.”
He added: “That time delay, in my opinion, will cost somebody some serious injury some day.”
Sgt Blaithín Moran, Westmeath, said: “There is no point in the RSU driving around on patrol with a boot full of ammunition and firearms.
“If an incident occurs when on patrol and they are attacked, all they have to defend themselves is a pepper spray and a baton.”
AGSI general secretary Joe Dirwan said the executive shared the concerns of the speakers, but asked delegates not to accept the motion.
“To have such a unit in full time armed mode is a considerable step towards an armed police force,” he said.
“More importantly it adds to the further blurring of the line with the public as to who is armed and who is not armed.”
Commissioner Murphy said: “My position is very clear on arming uniformed members on the streets – under my commissionership members in uniform will not carry arms.”
Meanwhile, the AGSI passed a motion calling for “drug retrieval” toilets to be set up in every garda division.
Delegates also discussed what measures could be taken in the event the pay agreement is rejected by members.