Agsi calls for Garda to ‘properly equip’ public order units

Concern that disturbances may take place during visits by Trump or Pope Francis

The Garda's public order units, or riot squads, are not properly prepared for any disturbances that may occurred during visits by US president Donald Trump or Pope Francis, a Garda conference has been told.

There is also concern that trouble may flare at international soccer fixtures Ireland is hosting during the European Championships in 2020.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) has expressed concerned at the quality of the equipment, from shields to vehicles, available at present to public order units.

Some of its members also say there are too few Garda members assigned to the units, and they are simply not available to respond when trouble flares.


Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy, who is in charge of policing in Dublin, recently said there had been a sharp increase in alcohol-related crime as the night-time economy boomed once more.

Delegates at the closing session of Agsi's three-day conference in Tullow, Co Carlow, expressed concern that an under-strength public order capability would be exposed while the eyes of the world were on Ireland.

While the visit of Pope Francis is not of serious concern, if Mr Trump were to take by up an invitation extended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to visit Ireland, protests would be expected, and it is feared some of those may result in disorder. And depending on what national soccer teams are drawn to play their Euro 2020 fixtures in Ireland, senior Garda officers see potential for trouble.

Protective equipment

Sgt Will Dempsey, who works in the Garda’s Dublin south central division, had called on Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park to “properly equip” public order units to be sure they could respond when called upon.

"Our current issue of personal protective equipment is not fit for purpose," he said. "In particular, our shields are in need of replacement. The public order shields were last purchased by An Garda Síochána in 2004, and they are guaranteed for five years. They are now still in use 14 years later. In a recent training exercise a shield broke after being struck by a wooden block."

He said there were currently seven vans in the Garda’s national public order fleet based in Santry, Dublin. Yet 15 vehicles were needed. And because of the shortage of vans, vehicles that were not suitable or even in need of repair were being used.

As an interim measure at least 12 public order vans should be “made available as a matter of urgency, especially in light of the European Championships in 2020 and the impending visits of foreign dignitaries such as the pope and President Trump”.

Budget cutbacks

Sgt Christy Morrison, a member of Agsi’s national executive, said the standard of the Garda’s public order equipment was now at crisis point.

“To use shields which are nine years out of their manufacturing warranty is absolutely ridiculous. Budget cutbacks should not put members’ safety at risk. Even the vans we use are converted goods vehicles. They’re not specifically purposely-built public order vans.”

He added that members of the Garda regularly needed to travel across the country to collect public order vans for planned operations. This was not good enough, and was completely unsuitable because public disorder was by its nature spontaneous, meaning resources must be close at hand at all times to be used at short notice.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times