Arm gardaí with Tasers amid an increasingly violent society, GRA conference told

Unarmed gardaí putting lives at risk to detain suspects spurs call for review of Armed Support Unit

Gardaí are waiting up to two hours for armed back-up due to a lack of resources, the Garda Representative Association conference has been told.

The conference heard calls for frontline gardaí to be armed with Tasers to deal with dangerous incidents and for increased provision of specialist armed units.

"We have to accept society has become more violent," said Ray Wims, representing the Sligo-Leitrim Division. "We do not have sufficient armed back-up to deal with these violent incidents."

Mr Wims said his division has no Armed Support Unit (ASU) and has to rely on officers from Donegal or Cavan when dealing with emergency situations. During 2021, there were eight occasions in Sligo-Leitrim where gardaí had to wait for more than two hours for armed back-up, according to a GRA analysis. There were 25 calls where it took more than 90 minutes to provide back-up, and 23 calls with a response time of more than 60 minutes. Only 38 calls were responded to within 30 minutes, Mr Wims said.

It is “unacceptable” that gardaí dealing with suspects armed with knives or firearms have to wait half an hour for armed back-up, he continued. “There is a knife produced, there is a firearm produced, what do we do? Do we tell the victim [that] armed back-up will be there in 30 minutes?”

In many cases, the call for back-up is cancelled because uniformed gardaí have de-escalated the situation, Mr Wims said.

He said the issue has been exacerbated by the large increase in incidents of domestic violence, and that unarmed gardaí are putting their lives at risk to detain suspects during incidents. “They will not leave the person there over 30 minutes or an hour. They will deal with the situation as best they can.

"We are in a different place than we were 15 years ago," Mr Wims added. He said the GRA is calling on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to carry out a review of ASU response times in each district.

He said a conversation is needed on whether gardaí “can continue to police by consent” and can continue to carry out their duties while unarmed.

James Conneely, also from Sligo-Leitrim, told the conference "times have moved on and it's a dangerous world we're living in". He said the current Garda policy is that Tasers are only issued to gardaí trained to carry conventional firearms, and that they should not be regarded as a replacement for firearms.

However, as the situation stands, many members authorised to carry firearms are not issued Tasers, he said. Only members of specialist units such as the ASU receive them. “I believe that all armed gardaí should have the option of Taser,” he said.

Gardaí, he said, should be able to get quick access to a Taser when dealing with people with knives. “Either provide sufficient armed support or arm the members sufficiently.”

Eoin Maher, from the Wexford Division, said he has concerns about issuing all frontline gardaí with Tasers, given the scrutiny gardaí find themselves under.

He said he believes it will lead to more problems and more complaints against gardaí. While he supports an increase in ASU numbers, “equipping every frontline member with Tasers is a bit overboard”, he added.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times