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Ireland: Proposal to Arm Police Stirs Debate

(Apr. 2, 2008) In Ireland, uniformed members of the national police force, the Garda Siochana, have traditionally not carried firearms. In emergency situations, special plainclothes officers who have been issued firearms have been called to the scene. However, recent increases in the overall level of violence and several well-publicized incidents of shootings at police officers have lead the government and the chief of the Garda to reconsider the country's policies on the arming of officers. On March 19, 2008, the head of the Garda delivered a major speech on the subject. Commissioner Fachtna Murphy began by reiterating that he was committed to traditionally uniformed officers remaining unarmed, but that he intended to go forward with a Regional Support Unit plan that would give designated police units firearms to carry in their police cars. Before using their firearms, gardaĆ­ officers would change out of their uniforms and put on either plain clothes or special uniforms issued for emergency situations. The Commissioner rejected the idea of creating more specialized units on the grounds that the force does not have the resources to have officers sitting around waiting for what are still isolated incidents. (Press Release, Garda Siochana, Commissioner's Speech to AGSI Conference 19th March 2008 (Mar. 19, 2008), available at http://www.garda.ie/press_story6.html.)

The proposal to issue firearms to members of the Garda has generally been strongly opposed by senior members of the force. The plan for uniformed officers to change their clothes before retrieving their weapons has been ridiculed as a "Wonder Woman" idea. (Gary Anderson, It's Never Gunna Happen: Garda Annual Conference Chief Vows Cops Will Not Carry Guns, THE MIRROR, Mar. 20, 2008, at 8). Many members of the Garda believe that the plan will put more officers in danger and would prefer the creation of more specialized units. Nevertheless, the Commissioner has stated that the plan will be implemented on at least a trial basis. The first area where the plan is scheduled to be implemented is in the southern part of the country, which includes the capital city of Dublin.