Garda forced to hire private shooting facilities for firearms training

Garda College facilities allow for training in handgun use but not heavier weapons

The Garda has spent tens of thousands of euro on renting time at private shooting ranges due to a lack of facilities at the Garda College in Tipperary.

The college in Templemore is able to provide handgun shoot facilities. But its ranges are not suitable for the heavier weapons used by specialist units such as Armed Support Units (ASU) and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU).

Since 2017, gardaí have spent just under €57,000 renting out space at private firing ranges. This includes €13,900 spent so far this year at the Midlands National Shooting Centre of Ireland, according to records released following a Freedom of Information request.

Midlands National Shooting Centre, in Tullamore, Co Offaly, says it is a "long-established shooting facility" that caters to all firearms calibres and has rifle ranges up to 1,200 yards long. There are currently 21 such licensed gun clubs in Ireland.

In the past, other shooting facilities for Garda firearms training have also been provided by the Army at their bases around the country.

Three ranges

The Garda College is equipped with three modern indoor firing ranges as well as a "firearms automated training system (FATS)", a computer simulation used to test decision-making abilities. There is another indoor range in the Western District Headquarters in Renmore, Co Galway. However, these are mostly only suitable for the handguns usually issued to detectives, namely the Smith and Wesson revolver, the Sig Sauer P226 pistol and the Walther semi-automatic pistol.

Larger-calibre weapons such as the rifles used by the ERU require a longer outdoor range.

Last year 13,520 individual firearms training sessions were carried out by gardaí. In order to retain their firearms licence, gardaí have to undertake two real-world and one virtual sessions per year.

The Garda has recently started reforming how its members train with and use firearms, with a greater emphasis being placed using specialist units, instead of frontline detectives, to respond to firearms incidents.

This year management also rolled out training in tactical firearm use for all licensed Garda firearm holders. This means that rather than just engaging in target practice, gardaí are also trained how to take cover and move around safely in armed situations.

There had previously been a firing range at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park. However, this was closed in 2005 due to safety reasons, including bullets ricocheting off the back wall.