Border gardaí seek automatic weapons amid hard Brexit fears

Donegal-based GRA members warn they are not equipped to tackle current threats

Gardaí are asking for more Armed Support Units (ASUs) to help police the estimated 208 crossings along the 500km Border. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gardaí are asking for more Armed Support Units (ASUs) to help police the estimated 208 crossings along the 500km Border. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Gardaí stationed near the Border are seeking the return of machine guns to individual stations ahead of a possible hard Brexit.

They are also asking the Minister for Justice and Garda management for more Armed Support Units (ASUs) to help police the estimated 208 crossings along the 500km Border.

Gardaí along the Border say criminals and subversives see the force as weak and ill-equipped and they are correct, according to Garda Brendan O’Connor who represents Donegal-based members for the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

“Our members feel that criminals and the cross-Border drug dealers and people of a political persuasion, they don’t take us seriously. They don’t see us as having the capabilities to take them on. They see us as weak. They see us as we see ourselves – untrained, ill-equipped and not enough numbers.”

Israeli-made Uzi sub-machine guns were issued to local detective units until 2012 when Garda management said the gun no longer suited requirements.

Detectives’ Smith and Wesson revolvers, which carried six rounds, were also replaced with the 15-shot SiG Sauer handgun. Management said the Sauer, with its increased capacity, would fill the role of both the Uzi and the revolver.

Now GRA representatives want the Uzi, or another automatic machine gun such as the MP7, to be reissued to non-specialised gardaí for use in emergencies.

The association, which has been meeting in Wexford, is also asking for Tasers and body-cameras to be issued to all front-line gardaí.

Having an automatic weapon in each station would allow gardaí to respond to serious situations and provide cover while Armed Support Units are mobilised, Garda O’Connor said.

‘Scramble armed units’

“Ten years ago gardaí could scramble armed units at local level with the Uzi available at local district level. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a deterrent,” he said.

“That capability has been taken away despite the threat being greater. And unfortunately cross-Border criminals have access to arms and aren’t afraid to use them. Our members are extremely vulnerable on the Border without proper backup.

“If we have an incident now, what do we have? A couple of detectives with a side arm for personal protection and no tactical training. It’s just simply not up to the threat and the danger that’s there.”

He added: “We need a deterrent. Our members need the confidence to know when they stand on the road and put up their hand that, whoever that person is coming along, feels there will be consequences to their actions.”

Garda O’Connor said gardaí also want more ASUs, covering a wider geographical area, particularly around the Border.

There are currently two ASU’s in Border areas, one in Dundalk, Co Louth, and the other in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, meaning it could take hours for a unit to reach a scene, he said. Garda O’Connor said he would like to see one in every division.

‘Gathering of evidence’

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said issues like firearms and Tasers are a matter for the Garda Commissioner. However, he said he supports the introduction of a body camera “in principle”.

“I do believe they will add considerably to the work of An Garda Síochána and I would hope that over a period of time consideration would be given towards having such a scheme. It would protect them in their duties and it would also be important in the gathering of evidence,” he said at the GRA’s annual conference in Wexford on Wednesday.

“I’m in favour of them but I understand there is a process and there are also resources issues.”

A garda working group is currently examining different models of body cameras, including cameras which provide a constant “live feed” back to a control centre and ones which store the footage locally on the device before it is uploaded later.