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Garda representative groups and Coalition TDs have rejected Varadkar’s backing of all gardaí to carry guns

Currently detective gardaí carry arms.

Leo Varadkar

Garda representative groups and Coalition TDs have rejected Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s backing of all gardaí to carry guns.

Mr Varadkar said he would support any recommendation that might come from the Garda Commissioner to arm gardaí.

Currently detective gardaí carry arms.

He told the Irish Mail on Sunday if the Commissioner Drew Harris did ask him or the Justice Minister to arm gardaí, he "would absolutely say yes".

"I certainly wouldn't do anything to block that if he felt that was the right approach."

His comments came after two gardaí were attacked in Ballyfermot last week.

Antoinette Cunnigham, secretary general of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), said the group was “slightly taken aback by his comments”.

“It’s very strong commentary, I understand the commentary that he’s saying he’d support it if the Garda Commissioner looked for it. It’s not our belief that the Garda Commissioner has looked for it, if he has, we’re certainly not aware of it,” she said.

“We support the ethos of the An Garda Síochána, which is policing by consent.”

She quoted the first Garda Commissioner Michael Staines, who said An Garda Síochána would not succeed by “force of arms”.

“For us as an association, we would see it as a step too far. There are many other forms of personal protective equipment, such as Tasers, less lethal than firearms, even body cams themselves are a deterrent.”

She urged the Tánaiste to get legislation on body cams in place.

Garda Representative Association (GRA) president Brendan O’Connor said his group is “not in favour” of arming rank and file gardaí.

However, he said the use of Tasers should be more commonplace among gardaí and there should be more armed units across the country.

“We have consistently called for greater availability of armed personnel to be called upon when required,” he said.

"We believe there should be a capability to deploy armed personnel from within existing district and divisional resources to compliment the current Armed Support Unit model in order to help us protect ourselves and the public without having to resort to a fully armed force.”

Mr O’Connor said there is a “hesitancy” among gardaí to use personal protective equipment for fear of a backlash.

“Another problem that we have seen evolving in recent years is a hesitancy among the membership to use their personal protection equipment for fear of finding themselves subjected to levels of scrutiny and accountability that are excessive and disproportionate.

“Some aspects of policing are unpleasant and place members in situations where they must resort to using force but increasingly members are being conditioned to believe they will be exposed and vulnerable even when they act completely within the training they have been given.

“This has led many members to second guess themselves when under attack and trying to defend themselves and the public.”

Mr Varadkar is also facing a political backlash over his comments from backbench Fianna Fáil TDs.

Former defence minister Willie O’Dea said it is “inappropriate” to speculate on recommendations the Garda Commissioner may or may not have made.

“The guards should definitely have more protective equipment,” he said.

“But I wouldn’t be in favour of arming the entire force because history in other countries has shown the more guns you bring into circulation, the more likely the escalation to violence.

“The more weaponry you put out there, the more likely it is that somebody will be shot. That’s logical.”

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said he would not support a “knee jerk” proposal to arm gardaí.

“The gardaí need a strong Armed Support Unit but I would oppose any knee-jerk proposal that would result in all gardaí being armed. It would completely change and, in my view, probably damage the nature of the relationship between the gardaí and the public,” he said.

“The current serious law and order problems we have in the country require careful consideration and a well thought out political response. They won’t be resolved through sound bites for a newspaper interview.”

However, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said if the Garda Commissioner made such a recommendation, it would have to be “seriously” considered.

She said she is “hugely concerned” about gangland crime.

“If, the commissioner deems it necessary to extend this to ensure safer communities and streets, then it'll have to be seriously considered.”

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