The armed support unit in Co Louth is “stretched to the limit” as it battles to cover the escalating gang feud in Drogheda, rampaging ATM gangs and patrolling the border as far as Co Cavan.
It comes as new figures show there have been 74 incidents directly connected to the violent gang feud in Drogheda since last summer.
In the last week, there were seven petrol bomb attacks and a reckless daytime shooting, in which an innocent builder was injured and a pedestrian narrowly escaped the eight shots fired.
Armed support units are attached to regions (six in the country) and the Northern Region Armed support units is split between Dundalk, Co Louth and Ballyshannon in Donegal, with those units also having to cover the Sligo/Leitrim and Cavan/Monaghan divisions.
A planned unit for Cavan/Monaghan is thought to be behind schedule after a delay in recruitment, which has to be followed by a 16-week training period.
Garda representatives from the Northern Region are to push their demands for a dedicated armed support units for each of the 28 divisions in the country at the annual conference of the Garda Representative Association today.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Garda commissioner Drew Harris, who are addressing delegates today, will face questions from the media on the issue and the feud in Drogheda.
Calls for Mr Harris to attend the Drogheda Joint Policing Committee have also been made by its outgoing chair Sinn Féin councillor Kenneth Flood and Fine Gael TD for Louth Fergus O’Dowd.
“The violence appears to be escalating,” said a garda source. “The two groups are at each others’ throats and are not stopping until they get blood.
“Local gardaí are throwing as much resources as they can into it, but resources are not unlimited. There’s only so many gardaí and there’s only so much overtime they can do.”
The Northern armed support unit is split between three or four units in Dundalk and two in Ballyshannon. “The armed support unit unit is also involved in countering ATM robberies as well so it’s completely stretched, so that isn’t helping things,” the source said.
He said that with the most recent ATM thefts in Kells, Co Meath, “well away from the Border” (where the other raids have been), it further expands the geographical area the unit has to cover.
The source said intelligence suggests these ATM gangs are armed, requiring an armed support unit response as opposed to unarmed uniformed gardaí.
The source said:
You add in that the unit in Dundalk also has to cover the border as far as Cavan/Monaghan and it is currently stretched to the limit
Separate sources have said the armed support unit presence in Louth can’t guarantee around-the-clock service.
“We don’t have a full-time unit. It’s as close to 24-hour cover as possible, within certain parameters,” said one source. GRA Louth representative Derek O’Donoghue declined to specifically comment on the ASU cover, but did say: “All Garda sections in Louth, including the ASU, are stretched.”
He said since an attempted murder last June, there have been 74 incidents linked to the feud. Speaking at its annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, GRA president Jim Mulligan said there was a need for a better equipped, better trained, more professionalised police force.
“Events in Drogheda and elsewhere in Louth, Meath and Border counties has brought this need into stark focus in recent days and weeks. We have been making our case for better training, equipment and facilities for a number of years. Regrettably, we’ve not got the response we were looking for.”
Mr Mulligan said the operational response to events like those in Drogheda is a matter for the commissioner and said the GRA supports any additional measures “to crack down on these reckless, indiscriminate thugs”.