Garda Síochana na hÉireann, Ireland’s national police service, has a long and fine tradition of policing by consent. This can be traced back to its origins during the War of Independence and the formation of the Irish Republican Police under the authority of Dáil Éireann. A populist auxiliary to the Irish Republican Army the IRP fulfilled the role formerly held by Britain’s colonial police force in Ireland, the despised Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC. Since its transformation into An Garda this organisation has acted as an unarmed civilian police service in deliberate contrast to the paramilitary police force it replaced. Indeed its very title means “the Peace Guardians of Ireland”. So it is with no little concern, sadness even, that one hears of the following through the Irish Independent newspaper:
“MORE than 120 uniformed gardai in specialist units countrywide will be permanently armed from today as part of a crackdown on criminal gangs and dissident terrorists.
This is the first time that uniformed gardai have been given permission to carry guns full-time since the foundation of the force almost a century ago.
The move has been sanctioned after a review of the operation of the five regional support units (RSUs) since their introduction in 2008.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has ordered that all the regional response units will be permanently armed after a rise in the number of incidents requiring garda firepower.”
Perhaps the most alarming part of this report is the almost fetishistic use of masculine language (“firepower”!) wholly inappropriate to the nature of An Garda or of the role it fulfils. Take this dubious claim here:
“The regional units are armed with weaponry including high-powered Heckler and Koch MP7 machine guns.
And the move will placate some officers who were unhappy at a decision to withdraw the powerful Israeli-made Uzi sub-machine gun from use within the force.”
The UZI submachine gun is of course a military firearm originally designed to be used by vehicle crews and rear-line units. It is little more than a simple point and burst weapon, spraying a high number of bullets at a short range with relatively little accuracy beyond that. Quite obviously this was wholly inappropriate for the Irish policing environment which is why the Gardaí’s ageing UZIs were replaced with the more accurate if still too high-powered HK MP7A1. Just as troubling as the above is this comparison for the arming of uniformed Gardaí by Tom Brady, a journalist who has long expressed an interest in “rehabilitating” the history of British colonial policing in Ireland:
“Now, for the first time since police officers from the Royal Irish Constabulary patrolled the streets, uniformed members of the force can from today carry guns permanently.”
Which is as bad an indictment of modern Ireland and modern Irish society as one can get.