Gardaí on Border demand greater armed back-up
Officers left like ‘sitting ducks’ due to manpower shortages
Garda Brendan O’Connor of the GRA at a garda checkpoint in Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal. Picture: Joe Dunne
October 25 2020 02:30 AM
GardaÍ along the border region feel under-resourced and outnumbered after a reduction in staff, according to the Garda Representative Association.
Earlier this month, members were who were called to particularly violent incident in Co Donegal when a man was shot in the knee with a crossbow, and a vehicle was driven into a house, had to wait hours for armed support.
That incident has fuelled unease among garda members in the region.
Currently there is a limited armed support unit in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, and often gardaí are reliant on assistance from colleagues in Galway, Mayo, Cavan.
With a potential no-deal Brexit and the possibility of a hard Border coming down the track the “unique policing area” has left officers feeling vulnerable and demanding action.
Garda Brendan O’Connor, of the Garda Representative Association, has said personnel in isolated locations on the Border are often dependent on the availability of back-up for their safety and when there are significant delays at critical incidents they are “little more than sitting ducks”.
“The division was disproportionately impacted by the years of austerity which saw the number of gardaí drop dramatically and basic equipment like vehicles in short supply,” said Gda O’Connor.
“Many smaller stations including those in border areas have not seen members replaced.”
That anxiety has been compounded by threats from dissident republicans who have stated their opposition to the presence of gardaí and the PSNI either side of the Border.
It is understood the priority for a dedicated armed support unit is Co Cavan after Quinn Industrial Holdings director Kevin Lunney was abducted and assaulted outside his Co Fermanagh home .
Training for an elite team who specialise in using firearms is under way and should be in operation before the end of the year.
However Donegal will have to wait a little longer for its numbers to be improved.
Gda O’Connor said the capacity for officers to respond to situations that present danger and require an escalation in the policing response has become a serious issue.
“The Border presents a unique policing environment along its length presenting challenges, difficulties and increased danger for those involved in law enforcement.”
He added that the concentration of dissident activity in the North “put gardaí in Donegal at an increased risk”.
But he said his concerns are not limited to cross-Border crime or the dissident threat.
“Gardaí dealt with a very serious life-threatening incident in a small rural town earlier this year and reports of incidents including domestic violence where knives or other weapons are involved are not uncommon,” he said.
“I am aware of an incident in west Donegal where a knife was reported to be involved and the units responding were told armed support would take a number of hours to be on scene, a similar incident involving a sword was also resolved when delays were experienced.”
A garda spokesman said the force has armed support capability “at all times in the border region and is satisfied that there is presently significant resources to deal with any critical and firearms incident that may arise”.
“Further armed support members will commence full-time duty in Cavan before the end of 2020.
“In addition, members of the detective branch in all border divisions are also qualified to carry firearms and are a further resource available,” said the spokesman.
The Policing Authority acknowledged there was an issue with response times in Donegal in a 2019 report. Members of the Joint Policing Committee have expressed their reservations of late.
Gda O’Connor said those colleagues attending incidents along the Border fear a situation escalating which “could endanger their lives”.
“The organisation’s response to those concerns is severely lacking with a failure to even acknowledge the seriousness of the situation,” he said.
“It’s not uncommon to hear units being dispatched to potentially dangerous situations, being told the armed support unit is hours away and then told to ‘exercise caution’ by a control room.”