Garda armed response unit launched for eastern region


A NEW Garda rapid response unit has been established to offer armed support to the public and unarmed gardaí who unexpectedly find themselves in flashpoint situations with armed or dangerous criminals.

The new 24-member regional support unit (RSU) will police the Garda’s eastern region, which includes Westmeath, Laois, Offaly, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

The new unit launched yesterday by Asst Comm Dermot Jennings in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, comes a year after the first two RSUs were introduced to Limerick and Cork cities.

Mr Jennings said RSU members would patrol in their vehicles in the same way as marked patrol cars that carry uniformed, unarmed gardaí. However, the RSU would become an armed response unit “within seconds” of being requested to respond to a dangerous situation.

The RSUs were “in no way” being introduced as part of a wider process of arming the entire Garda force.

“I was speaking to the Garda Commissioner [Fachtna Murphy] in advance of the RSU being rolled out in this region and the message is very clear; this unit will be deployed on the streets and roads of our region to protect the community. It will confront and counteract the activities of those involved in serious crime.” Mr Jennings is the officer in charge of the Garda’s eastern region.

The new unit has been provided with six XC70 Volvo “Police Special” vehicles. The cars, with Garda livery, are custom-made with enhanced engines, braking systems, and other components that come under stress during emergency driving conditions.

They have secure compartments to store a range of equipment including Sig 9mm pistols and Heckler and Koch submachine guns. Their “less-than-lethal” weapons include Taser guns and pepper sprays.

Groups of three RSU members will patrol an area in their vehicle, like normal marked Garda patrols. When they are called on to respond to an armed or flashpoint situation they will quickly place a large “armed response unit” magnetic logo on the outside of their vehicle.

They will don armed response, or “tactical”, uniforms including baseball caps and shirts, which will differentiate them from unarmed Garda members.

In extreme cases they will wear full bullet-resistant suits. They will then access their weapons in a safe in their vehicles and make their way to a flashpoint situation.

They will also conduct operations to combat gun crime, knife crime and any form of organised or serious crime. The unit will be involved in duties such as Garda checkpoints and in executing search or arrest warrants on known dangerous criminals.

The units were first recommended by the Garda Inspectorate, led by Kathleen O’Toole. The inspectorate reviewed the report of the Barr tribunal of inquiry into the fatal shooting of John Carthy by the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Abbeylara.

Its review concluded that second-tier armed response teams were needed to contain incidents involving firearms pending the arrival of the ERU; which is the primary purpose of the RSUs.

The unit launched yesterday by Mr Jennings is made up of 24 experienced gardaí who have undergone an intense training programme in lethal and less than lethal weapons, tactical training and hostage negotiation. All have undergone paramedic training.

The next RSU to be launched will be based in Galway city.