GARDAÍ armed with submachine guns and automatic pistols provided back-up for unarmed colleagues operating checkpoints in Rathkeale today.
Armed patrols have been deployed to the west Limerick town to help local Gardai keep a lid on rising tensions between feuding Traveller families.
Checkpoints were in place along a stretch of road where at least six vehicles were damaged in a number of violent ramming incidents yesterday.
Video footage showed the vehicles abandoned and what appeared to be a number of machetes left on the road.
Gardaí were following several lines of enquiry with one theory suggesting that Monday’s clashes may have been linked to a recent altercation between parties at a pub in west Limerick.
Members of the Garda Armed Support Unit (ASU), carried Sig Suer semi-automatic self-loading pistols and Heckler & Koch MP7s which can fire ammunition that can penetrate body armour.
The ASU has been a regular sight in Rathkeale over the past several weeks in response to a number of recent incidents.
Weapons were recovered at a property in the town last month and a mobile home was attacked by men wearing balaclavas and armed with machetes.
Gardaí are understood to be monitoring members of a group from Limerick City, who are not from the Travelling Community and are said to have been attempting to extort land and property from local Traveller families.
A reliable source said that at least one other local group is suspected of being involved in the importation of drugs from South East Europe. However Gardaí did not immediately respond when asked about this.
Local joint police committee chairman, Fine Gael Councillor Adam Teskey, called a special meeting of committee members, local TDs and senior Gardaí on Friday to hear what policing plans are being put in place and to discuss a strategy to tackle the violence.
“This has to be rooted out once and for all, and I am calling on the Minister for Justice to come to Rathkeale to walk the town with myself or other public representatives to see exactly what we need here,” he said.
“We need to have a more proactive approach to policing this situation. We need to have armed responses from Gardaí. We need more information gathering in relation to what is happening, and we need to build up an element of trust between members of the force and the general community.
“We need to arm our Gardai appropriately to deal with this situation – a can of pepper spray is not going to sort this out,” he declared.
“Any ordinary Garda on the beat yesterday would have been unable to deal with the level of what happened yesterday.”
A sense of calm was restored to the town today as locals went about their normal business, shops were busy and parking was at a premium. However the presence of armed Gardai on the streets was a stark reminder of the violence that erupted locals on Monday.
“Rathkeale this morning has returned to normal, there is a sense of calm, however one cannot ignore what happened last night,” said Cllr Teskey.
“It’s unfortunate to see a minority causing such harm, and I would call on the factions involved to cease their actions immediately before our town is completely destroyed.”
In a statement issued yesterday evening, a Garda spokesman said that a number of vehicles abandoned on the road were seized by Gardaí and taken for technical examination”.
However, Gardaí declined to comment when asked if they had recovered weapons following Monday’s violence.
“No arrests have been made. Investigations are ongoing,” the spokesman said.
Gardaí did not disclose details of the policing plan for Rathkeale over the Christmas period, when the town’s population effectively trebles from 1,400 due to an influx of members of the Travelling Community.
A spokesman said: “A policing plan for Rathkeale continues in place, commensurate with the current policing need, primarily based on Community engagement and High visibility uniform patrols and static checkpoints, supported where necessary by Regional Units.
“Local Garda Management, across the Country put in place local policing plans for the Christmas period. These Policing plans are monitored and assessed on an ongoing basis and reviewed in line with evolving incidents and risks,” he added.