Coalition colleagues distance themselves from Varadkar's comments on arming gardaí 

Coalition colleagues distance themselves from Varadkar's comments on arming gardaí 

OUT OF STEP: The Green and Fianna Fáil leaders Eamon Ryan and Micheál Martin have distanced themselves from comments about arming An Garda Síochána by Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, centre. Picture: Sam Boal

Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have ruled out arming rank-and-file gardaí after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he would back an armed force if Garda Commissioner Drew Harris requested it.

Weekend comments by Mr Varadkar have drawn opposition from his fellow Government leaders, coalition TDs, and Garda representative associations, who made it clear there is no appetite for such a move.

In the wake of a spate of attacks on gardaí, including a vicious assault on two officers in Dublin, the Tánaiste was asked if he thought the State needs an armed force. He said he would say “absolutely yes” and would not block a move to arm gardaí if asked by Mr Harris.

However, spokespersons for Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan extolled the virtues of a mainly unarmed force to the Irish Examiner. Mr Martin’s spokesman said gardaí have a long history, since the foundation of the State, of being unarmed and being embedded within the community. The increase in violence and gangland crime has seen the need for specialist armed response units.

“The Government is committed to the ongoing reform of policing, such as the Commission on the Future of Policing, which did not recommend arming rank-and-file gardaí,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Ryan said a number of specialist Garda units are already armed “as is appropriate” but, in terms of arming all officers, Mr Ryan is conscious of the founding principle of the force that it will succeed “not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people”.

“That culture and tradition of an unarmed police force has served both An Garda Síochána and the Irish people well,” he added.

Fully arming gardaí would be a “step too far” for most force members, said general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) Antoinette Cunningham. She said society has changed but a fully-armed force would be a step too far for most AGSI colleagues.

“Unlikely that this would be sought other than to expand already existing specialist units,” she tweeted.

Brendan O’Connor, president of the Garda Representative Association, said that while his organisation is not in favour of routine arming of uniformed gardaí, it has consistently called for greater availability of armed personnel to be called upon when required.

“We believe there should be a capability to deploy armed personnel from within existing district and divisional resources to complement the current armed support unit model in order to help us protect ourselves and the public without having to resort to a fully-armed force,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD and senior counsel Jim O’Callaghan was critical of Mr Varadkar’s comments.

“Obviously, the gardaí need a strong armed support unit but I would oppose any knee-jerk proposal that would result in all gardaí being armed,” he said.

“The current serious law-and-order problems we have in the country require careful consideration and a well thought-out political response. They won’t be resolved through soundbites for a newspaper interview.”

In the interview with the Irish Mail on Sunday, Mr Varadkar criticised what he called the “really appalling” scenes in Ballyfermot where two gardaí were seriously assaulted.

Asked about arming officers, he said it was a matter for Mr Harris but added: “Certainly, if the Garda Commissioner came to me or the minister for justice and said ‘we need guards to be armed’, or that ‘we need more guards to be armed,’ well then I would absolutely say yes. I certainly wouldn’t do anything to block that if he felt that was the right approach.”

The Garda press office told the Irish Examiner last night the safety of gardaí is of “paramount and ongoing concern” to Mr Harris but “there are no plans to extend the issue of firearms beyond the present personnel who carry firearms at the moment for operational purposes”.

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