Sunday, 2 April 2006

Gangland gardai share out-of-date bullet-proof vests

Sunday April 02 2006
GARDAI who have to face Dublin's well-armed and well-protected gun gangs have to share out eight bullet-proof vests between 24 armed detectives.

Officers in the west Dublin garda district - where last weekend's M50 shoot-out took place - now fear their lives are being put at risk.

The district covers the Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and Rathcoole areas, where some of the most heavily armed and dangerous gangs are operating.

Out of a total of around 150 gardai, including uniformed and plain-clothes detectives, 24 are issued with revolvers.

But they have to share bullet-proof vests, some of which are ageing and may not provide protection against high-velocity rounds.

Only four "ballistics vests", as they are officially known, are available in Clondalkin station, two in Ballyfermot and one in Rathcoole. There is one other smaller jacket for use by a female garda in the entire district.

There are 10 armed members attached to Ballyfermot, 12 in Clondalkin and two in Rathcoole. Not all would be on duty at the same time, but local gardai say that if there is a major operation against gangs known to be armed and dangerous the detectives prefer not to wear the jackets, rather than leave some of their colleagues unprotected.

One local detective said yesterday that some of the jackets were "stinking" and had not been replaced or cleaned in years.

Unlike the gardai, the west Dublin drugs gangs have the latest Kevlar jackets which can stop bullets up to the .44 Magnum. The "early generation" garda jackets provide protection against only low-velocity weapons.

When the Garda press office was asked, yesterday, how many bullet-proof jackets the force had, it made no reply.

Meanwhile, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has complained about the decision to fly journalists to England this weekend, along with Justice Minister Michael McDowell and Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy - to attend a conference about reserve policing. The conference, hosted by the local constabulary, is in Cheshire.

GRA president Dermot O'Donnell yesterday said: "This is scandalous. The minister is spending thousands of euros of taxpayers' money on going to this conference in England for the weekend - money that could be spent on providing bullet-proof vests and anti-stab vests for our members who are serving the community out on the streets tonight."

Mr O'Donnell said he had learned of the trip only last week.

"The minister or the commissioner might have had the courtesy to have asked some of the garda representatives if they wanted to come. We rang the organisers but they said they were booked out.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the five journalists on the trip to Cheshire were paying their own way.

But Mr O'Donnell said: "I was at the NYPD Patrolmen's Benevolent Association conference in New York last year and they were shocked to learn the Garda Siochana had no anti-stab jackets.

"They have previously collected retiree's vests and supplied them to police in Puerto Rico, and offered to do the same for us.

"Is it the situation that Ireland, today, is unable to provide its police with the basic minimum protection that is provided for police in every other First World country?"

He said that the latest bullet-proof vest costs around €1,000, and the trip to England would have paid for enough to fit out a detective unit in Dublin.

The gardai are currently running a test of anti-stab jackets at Tallaght Garda Station, but have yet to issue the jackets to city centre stations in Dublin and elsewhere.

Last July, Garda Dave Comer was almost killed after he was repeatedly stabbed when he and a colleague responded to a call about an incident at a house in Santry in Dublin. He is still recovering.

Mr O'Donnell said: "All police in England, including the voluntary reserves, go on duty wearing anti-stab jackets.

"We want the minister to ensure that all our members have the basic minimum protection before going on duty."

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