Garda use Punchestown to prepare against electoral agitation
By Cormac Byrne and Kevin Doyle
Wednesday January 26 2011
GARDA riot squads have significantly upped their training amid fears of election unrest.
Officers have spent several days undergoing intensive preparation for any potential protests or street violence in the build up to Election Day.
The Public Order Unit was practicing defensive formations, and is also understood to have been trained to deal with petrol bombs.
A source explained: “Training has intensified recently to deal with any civil unrest around election time.
“Despite the problems we’ve had in this country there has been relatively little violence but the highest levels of precautions are being taken.”
The source added: “Tempers are likely to flare during the election and there is a fear that public disquiet could spill onto the street, but the more likely threat comes from some of the left-wing groups that we’ve already seen cause trouble.”
The officers practiced tactics designed to control and disperse large groups of protesters.
Some of the training drills involved the use of firearms and the officers were in full riot gear throughout.
Left-wing socialist and republican groups, such as Eirigi, have been accused of hijacking peaceful protests and engaging in violent altercations with members of the force.
Gardai are on stand-by to be deployed, mainly in the capital, as Election Day gets closer.
Gardai feel they must be at the ready due to the threat of strike action from some private sector workers, the possible scrapping of the Croke Park Agreement, the reality of last month’s budget cuts hitting home and increasing fury at the political establishment.
The impact of December’s budget is being felt by families right around the country as pay packets arrive and the severity of the universal social charge and the fall of tax credits is realised.
To date, the most violent protest was last November when thousands of students descended on Leinster House.
The march ended with chaotic and bloody scenes as a small group of protesters tried to stage a sit-down protest in a Department of Finance building.
Three gardai were hospitalised and a small number of arrests were made.
Each garda division in the country has a public order unit within it. Some busy divisions, mainly in Dublin city, have two public order units.
Each consists of 22 officers — a garda inspector, three sergeants, and 18 gardai.
Officers assigned to these specialist units work for them on a part-time basis and have regular garda duties.
Public order unit gardai are regularly sent on refresher courses to brush up on specialist skills and improve fitness.
Donal Mac Fhearraigh