Plan to deploy additional armed gardaí in Dublin city centre criticised as ‘draconian’ by Government TD

Force outlines how it intends to spend additional funding provided following series of high-profile attacks

Garda Headquarters has outlined how it plans to spend the extra €10 million allocated by the Government to tackle violence and antisocial behaviour in the city centre.

Garda management has promised to significantly increase visibility in Dublin city centre – including by deploying armed officers, riot police and dog units – in the wake of a series of high-profile attacks.

The policing plan will see additional gardaí stationed at trouble spots on the main thoroughfares and on the Liffey Boardwalk. Along with uniformed gardaí, specialist units will also be deployed “to enhance Garda visibility in the city centre”.

These units include the Garda Air Support Unit, the Mounted Unit, the Dog Unit, Regional Armed Response Units and Road Policing units.

While high profile violent attacks on the streets of Dublin have resulted in significant public debate for months, and the Government has responded with a €10 million package for a policing surge, crime data shows attacks have not increased, indeed they have fallen marginally.

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Figures obtained by The Irish Times from Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, show there have been 2,353 assaults in public places in Dublin to date this year. This compares with 2,429 in the same period last year and 2,535 in 2019, the most recent comparable period before pandemic.

Meanwhile, senior Garda officers told The Irish Times the American Football game at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night, between Navy and Notre Dame, had now become a cause for concern in the force. They said while no trouble would ever usually be anticipated at, or around, such a game, if any American visitors were robbed or assaulted, even during the course of a relatively minor incident, it had the potential to put the Garda and Government under pressure.

One source believed public debate would be “even more hysterical” than in recent months. As a result, any attack on a US tourist, especially after a recent safety warning about Dublin issued by the US embassy in the city, would cause reputational damage to Dublin as a destination.

It is understood that the extra armed units will not be on foot patrol and will be mainly vehicle-based. They are judged necessary to handle potential knife attacks as, unlike regular uniformed gardaí, armed response units carry Taser devices and other less-than-lethal weapons.

In a statement on Tuesday, Garda Headquarters outlined how it plans to spend the extra €10 million allocated by the Government to tackle violence and antisocial behaviour in the city centre.

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It comes as the organisation, along with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, comes under mounting pressure following several violent incidents in the city, including attacks on tourists, violent robberies in Temple Bar and the alleged stabbing of a man on Grafton Street at the weekend.

The additional funding was announced last month, with Ms McEntee saying it will provide for 240,000 extra policing hours and 20,000 garda shifts between now and the end of the year.

However, the announcement has been criticised by Ms McEntee’s Government colleague, Green Party TD Patrick Costello, as “disproportionate and draconian”.

Mr Costello, who is the party’s justice spokesman, said the deployment of dog units, riot police and armed units in the city is not appropriate and urged Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to come up with a new plan. He said the solution to the violence is more gardaí on the beat, not more armed response units.

The Garda said the money will be used to pay for 16,500 additional hours per month in the city centre as part of a “high impact” and “visibility” strategy.

Much of the funding will go towards the increased deployment of the National Public Order Unit, the Garda’s riot unit, in the city centre on a daily basis. This will account for 20 per cent of the €10 million.

It also promised a “strong focus” on seizing alcohol and tackling street level drug dealing and antisocial behaviour.

There will be “planned days of high impact visibility” involving checkpoints, the execution of warrants and summons, intelligence-led searches and arrests, immigration checks and enforcement of road traffic laws.

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The response will not be limited to the city centre, the Garda said. High-impact visibility days will also take place in other Garda divisions in the Dublin Metropolitan Region.

“The overall objective of our activity is to reassure the citizens, visitors and the business community that Dublin is a safe place in which to live, visit, and work. An enhanced visible policing presence is central to this objective,” said Assistant Commissioner for the Dublin Region Angela Willis.

High-visibility patrols on the transport network and near transport services at peak times will continue under Operation Saul, the Garda said. It said the increased activity in the city centre may push offending out to other divisions.

To combat this, each of the four outer Garda Dublin divisions will receive a portion of the additional funding. This will include patrols on public transport to deal with offenders before they reach the city centre. In total, the four divisions of the Dublin Metropolitan Region will see 48,500 extra policing hours a month.

Ms McEntee welcomed the announcement and said the funding will “ensure that the city is a safe place for all to live, work and visit”.

She said: “While policing alone cannot solve many of the factors which contribute to criminality or people feeling unsafe, high visibility policing is crucial to providing reassurance for all who live in, work in or visit our capital city.”

According to the Garda, in the past week there have been 545 arrests in Dublin and 1,667 patrols. Just under €400,000 worth of drugs and €423,000 in cash was seized.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times