The Irish Times is carrying an extremely interesting report into changes in the way the Irish Garda, the national police service of the Republic of Ireland, will be authorised to carry weapons. The shift in approach seems to be driven by a desire to reducing training load on non-front line officers and a push for the development of more specialised firearms teams.

Since the formation of the Garda Síochána in 1923, it has been a predominantly unarmed force, and more than three-quarters of the force do not routinely carry firearms. As of 31 December 2019, the police service had 14,708 sworn members (including 458 Reserves) and 2,944 civilian staff. Operationally, the Garda Síochána is organised into four geographical regions: the East, North/West, South and Dublin Metropolitan Regions. However, detectives and certain units such as the Regional Support Units (RSU) and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) are commissioned to carry firearms and do so. A website managed by the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa notes that there are “no specific legal provisions on use of firearms by the Gardai, which is predominantly an unarmed police service. Instead, the law provides an exemption from licensing requirements under the various Firearms Acts for a member of the Garda Síochána when on duty.

The process began last year after a review of the number of armed members was carried out and it was found that more than a quarter (27 per cent or 3,778 gardaí) were carrying firearms. This was close to the proportion of members who were armed at the height of the Troubles in the 1980s.

The 2019 review showed many gardaí who were assigned a firearms authorisation card, permitting them to carry a weapon, were working in desk jobs or in non-frontline areas such as cybercrime or immigration.

The Policing Authority had already raised concerns about the numbers of gardaí carrying firearms, as had the Garda Inspectorate, which in 2018 noted that the time devoted to firearms training in the Garda was “exceptionally high for an unarmed police service”.

A process is currently under way to withdraw firearms from gardaí who do not require them, mainly detectives not assigned to frontline duty. To date, almost 1,000 cards have been withdrawn as part of the ongoing process, according to figures obtained by The Irish Times.

Irish Times

According to a recent review, since 2016, the armed Garda’s have fired weapons 16 times. Five of the incidents were related to the accidental discharge of Garda’s guns. Two incidents involved injuries to the Garda’s themselves, and the other incident was that the suspect was accidentally shot in the face and sustained life changing injuries.