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Garda spends €250,000 on drones ahead of legislation permitting use in policing

Evaluation of 21 purchased drones under way with view to using them in missing persons searches, crowd control and during riots

Gardaí have spent €250,000 on drones in recent years in advance of legislation allowing their use in policing operations.

The force has purchased 21 drones of various types which are currently undergoing evaluation by members of the Garda Air Support Unit. Once the relevant legislation is enacted, gardaí will be able to use these drones in various policing roles, including surveillance, missing persons searches, and surveying crime and collision scenes.

The drones may also be used in crowd control and during riots to help identify offenders.

Under planned legislation, footage obtained from the use of drones could potentially be combined with facial recognition technology during the investigation of serious offences.


The Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Act 2023, passed last year, grants gardaí power to use recording devices, including body cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones.

However, the law has yet to be put into effect pending the drafting of a related code of conduct.

In preparation of the new law, An Garda Síochána has spent €250,152 on drones since 2019. Most of this expenditure (€163,582) took place in 2020.

The figures were released under Freedom of Information legislation. The Garda refused to disclose details of what types of drones have been purchased, citing potential adverse impacts on national security and the threat from serious criminals.

The release of the information “could allow criminal elements to amass knowledge regarding the capabilities of An Garda Síochána” which could “significantly impede” its operational capacity, a freedom of information officer wrote.

However, it is understood a wide variety of drones are undergoing evaluation, including larger models capable of sustained operations and suited to surveillance roles.

There are plans for smaller drones to be used by scene of crime analysts and collision investigators to help survey scenes.

Ten gardaí attached to the Garda Air Support Unit have been trained in the use of drones so far, a figure expected to increase once the legislation is enacted and gardaí roll out a full-scale drone-purchasing programme

The air support unit , which is also responsible for the Garda helicopters, is based at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnell, Dublin, and is overseen by assistant commissioner for organised and serious crime Justin Kelly.

The unit “continues to conduct trials with diverse Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) pending the enactment of enabling legislation. An Garda Síochána acquired 21 drones for assessment, with the potential for future operational deployment,” a spokesman said.

An internal Garda working group was “dedicated to exploring the broader possibilities and applications of drones in supporting policing operations”, he said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times