system failure | 

New GRA chief says officers had long wait for backup while coked-up gunman fired at officers

The gunman, Stephen Dowling, from Burrin Road in Carlow, was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this year
New GRA president Brendan O'Connor

New GRA president Brendan O'Connor

Alan Sherry

FRONTLINE gardai say there seems to be a growing willingness among some members of the public to attack officers who are being put in danger due to weaknesses in the response capabilities of the force.

Donegal-based Garda Brendan O'Connor - who was elected the new president of the Garda Representative Association at their annual conference in Westport last week - told the Sunday World that he, like many other gardai, has been assaulted while carrying out his duties.

"Assaults are very common. It's everything from minor things like a push and a shove right up to very serious assaults.

"We had two female members assaulted last weekend in Letterkenny out on patrol. The figures speaks for themselves.

"Gardai are suffering everything from factures, bruises, bites, you name it the whole spectrum of injuries."

Garda Padraig Scott

Garda Padraig Scott

He pointed out the even more extreme attacks on gardai, including how his colleague Garda Padraig Scott was subjected to a vicious assault and doused in petrol in a disturbing incident while he was on patrol alone in Blacklion, Co. Cavan, in February.

"On routine patrols responding to calls like public order incidents, there seems to be a growing willingness for people to assault guards," Garda O'Connor said.

"Then you have the more serious incidents like the one in Blacklion, and one of those is one too many."

Garda O'Connor told how his own division in Donegal has seen major incidents in recent years, including a man who armed himself with a sniper rifle while high on cocaine and alcohol and started firing at gardai, civilians and property in the town in an incident described as "like a rampage from the wild west".

The gunman, Stephen Dowling, from Burrin Road in Carlow, was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this year for the incident.

Stephen Dowling (right) is escorted in to court by gardai (North West Newspix)

Stephen Dowling (right) is escorted in to court by gardai (North West Newspix)

"The incident in Glenties just shows you the unpredictability of what can happen," said Garda O'Connor.

"You can no longer presume the place is quiet.

"That's the last place you would have ever expected that to happen, but that's indicative of the unpredictable nature of policing and what can arise at very short notice.

"It highlights weaknesses in the systems and response capability."

Unarmed gardai were first on the scene to the incident and tried to manoeuvre Dowling out of the town as they waited for armed back-up, which took an hour.

Detective Garda Enda Jennings and Detective Garda Darren Carter were the only armed officers within an hour of the area and were fired upon when arriving.

"That night [local gardai] were waiting over an hour for armed back-up.

"They weren't too bad because there happened to be units in Letterkenny. Prior to that we had occasions where armed back-up had to come from as far away as Mayo and Galway for Donegal. That could be two-and-a-half to three hours."

Several gardai who responded to that incident were left suffering from PTSD, and Garda O'Connor said that is something many other gardai have suffered.

"I've been involved in a few incidents where I have been assaulted, but thankfully not in recent years myself," he said.

"Depending on the individual and the type of assault, for some people it can be hugely damaging on their confidence, they can suffer from PTSD and it can affect their personal life.

"If it has an impact on someone's welfare or their mental health then that's also going to impact on the people they share their lives with. It can have serious implications."

He said attacks on gardai aren't limited to late at night.

"It's not just at night-time. We had a couple of incidents where guards were attacked in the middle of the day during Covid," he said.

He said gardai should also be given self-defence training on a regular basis like they are in other countries.

"There are guards out there like myself who has 25 years' service and it's 25 years since my last self-defence training.

"Most police services have regular training. In the UK it is mandatory for officers to have training every year."

He said more gardai on the beat and more access to vehicles in certain parts of the country can help better protect gardai, along with armed support being more readily available - particularly in isolated areas.

Other issues gardai raised at the conference include concerns about the rise in the cost of living and concerns about a new roster system which they believe is imminent.


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