Gardaí dismayed at disbandment of specialised Garda units in Limerick

Former Garda Representative Association President Frank Thornton.

KEY crimefighting units that have been instrumental to Gardaí toppling Limerick drug organisations and putting gangland criminals behind bars are to be disbanded as a consequence of the Garda Commissioner’s controversial working hours plan.

Garda management in the Treaty City “informed members attached to Community Policing that their units were being disbanded and they were being reassigned to core frontline duties,” Garda Frank Thornton of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) revealed this Monday evening (September 18).

“In addition, members attached to the rural Drugs Unit are also being redeployed onto frontline duties, and proactive operations like Operation Croí have been discontinued, which in effect erodes all the efforts to date in combating crime and drug activity in Limerick,” Garda Thornton added.

The unexpected disbandment of community policing units across Limerick City, which according to Garda Thornton is “the bedrock of An Garda Síochána”, is part of the fallout of the Garda rosters row that led to over 9,000 Gardaí expressing no confidence in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last Wednesday.

When asked directly if there will be any dedicated community policing unit operating in Limerick City under the roster plans, a senior Garda source replied: “There will be none”.

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“I never thought the day would come that we would have these types of changes to community policing, but this is where it is going unfortunately. Community policing won’t be able to be maintained from the change in the rosters,” the source added.

“These officers will be pulled back to frontline policing and will have no time to conduct community policing. It is a pile of s–t, excuse my language, but what is happening now is just awful,” another Garda source said.

The situation is to be replicated in Garda Divisions across the country, the source explained.

The redeployment of officers from community policing and the rural drug unit is understood to involve in the region of, at least, 20 Gardaí.

Gardaí are rallying against Commissioner Harris’ plans for officers to return to a pre-Covid rostering arrangement, known as the ‘Westmanstown Roster’, where officers work six days on and four days off, as opposed to an emergency roster that was brought in during the pandemic period where Gardaí work four days on and four days off. Gardaí claim the new rostering system has made them more efficient as well marking an improvement in their work-life-balance.

“What people might not understand is that the Westmanstown roster, from pre-Covid times, is incomparable to now in terms of the Garda numbers that are not coming into the force,” a senior Garda source explained.

“The specialist units that grew over the past three to four years, including armed response units, drug units, the protected services units that investigate sexual crimes – these are all really good units – but all these units drew away from the frontline.”

“We have had four units operating for the past three years on 12-hour shifts and now local Garda management is being asked overnight to make a fifth unit out of that four.”

“That’s a dilution of 20 per cent of your resources, so you’re making five units out of four with the same numbers, which isn’t possible. And in order to make it possible, management have to (wrap up) specialised units.”

Community policing and drug units were vitally important in how Gardaí initially investigated and defeated the once notorious Dundon McCarthy criminal network responsible for the murders of several young criminals in Limerick City.

The gang also gunned down two innocent members of the pubic, Shane Geoghegan, who was shot dead in a case of mistaken identity in November 2008, and Roy Collins, a businessman whose family had given evidence against the Dundon gang in a criminal trial, in April 2009.

The senior source warned that other specialised units, such as Roads Policing, are also “unfortunately coming under the microscope” under the Commissioner’s plans.

“It is horrendous and we don’t know where it is going to end,” they said.

Meanwhile, Garda Thornton described present Garda resources as “threadbare” with Gardaí “experiencing major difficulty in trying to deliver a policing service, feeling exhausted and worn out”.

When asked for comment, a Garda Headquarters spokeswoman said it was liaising with the Limerick Garda Division and would reply in due course.