Up to 1,500 Garda members set to police Papal visit

Mass at Phoenix Park, with 600,000 capacity, will be challenge to manage – Pat Leahy

Pope Francis will move around Dublin in his so-called ‘Pope Mobile’. Photograph: Getty Images

Up to 1,500 Garda members working 12 to 18-hour shifts will be required on duty in Dublin to cope with the policing operation for the Pope's mass in Phoenix Park next month.

Garda were also planning for protests during the visit, assistant commissioner Pat Leahy has said. And he confirmed Pope Francis would move around Dublin in his so-called "Pope Mobile".

Mr Leahy, who is in charge of policing in the Garda’s Dublin metropolitan region, would not comment on the security components of the planned Garda operation.

However, The Irish Times understands the Public Order Unit, or riot squad, will be on standby along with several armed teams, including the Emergency Response Unit and Armed Support Unit.


Peaceful protests

Garda sources said they believed any protests would be peaceful but they would be ready in the event serious disturbances flared.

Asked about reports protesters were block booking Papal Mass tickets free of charge online with the intention of wasting them, Mr Leahy believed the scale of the visit meant such protests would make little, if any, difference to the event.

The more pressing issue is the movement of people in and out of Phoenix Park, with a capacity of 600,000 at the Mass on Sunday, August 26th.

“It will be a significant movement of people and the profile is expected to be challenging in terms of mobility,” he said of a congregation that will very likely include a large number of older people and children.

“It will be a slow burn entry over a number of hours through the day, but the exit strategy will be quite challenging.”

People will come from all over the country, many on buses. And a lot of those vehicles will be parked many kilometres from Phoenix Park.

Getting people from the Mass site to the gates of the park and then away from the park is a logistical operation complicated by the fact it will continue into the hours of darkness.

Mr Leahy estimated clearing the park of the crowds would take at least “four to five hours”.

“Anything between 1,200 and 1,500 members would be needed on duty in Dublin, certainly on the Sunday,” he said.

The day before, when Pope Francis celebrates mass in Croke Park and makes a number of pastoral visits to several venues in the city, will be less challenging. But his moving around the city will need to be closely marshalled.

Mr Leahy was addressing councillors at the Dublin City Council joint policing committee.

Kinahan-Hutch feud

He said Operation Hybrid, which polices the Kinahan-Hutch feud, needed to be continued for the foreseeable future. To date a large number of people involved had been taken off the streets and were in prison, which was having an impact.

Homicides were down and the feud was now at its quietest for two years. Some 162 firearms had been seized during the past 2½ years since the operation began, though not all of those from the feuding factions.

He also said the number of Garda members in Dublin had fallen for a decade. They had declined by 890 between 2009 and March of this year, but had been rising in recent months.

There were 4,200 Garda members in Dublin in 2009, in a total force then of 14,412. There are currently just over 13,000 sworn Garda members in the force. Numbers fell during the years of recession because recruitment was stopped and recommenced only 2½ years ago.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times