An elite Garda unit armed with high-powered weapons is being permanently set up in Dublin in the wake of the “unprecedented” escalation of gangland bloodshed.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald signalled a green light for the new dedicated response team during a summit with Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.
A “saturation policing” strategy – similar to that used to rein in feuding gangsters in Limerick in recent years – will also be deployed in the capital amid growing fears of a tit-for-tat murder frenzy.
“We will stand down this threat from these gangs,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“The gardai will have every resource that they need in order to have the kind of armed response that is necessary and the kind of saturation policing that we need to see.”
Responding to concerns that the Garda had no intelligence on last Friday’s audacious attack in the city’s Regency Hotel, the outgoing Justice Minister admitted she would be concerned at any failings.
“Obviously if intelligence had been available, clearly the gardai would have been there,” she said.
“I would be concerned at any intelligence failing, of course, but what I would say is that gardai did not have intelligence in relation to it.”
She said the force had a very wide group of criminals to continuously monitor and disrupt.
“Clearly this is a new situation,” she added.
“It is unprecedented in terms of the audacity of going into a hotel with armoury in the way that they did, and this feud now escalating.”
Ms Fitzgerald said she agreed with the Garda chief Ms O’Sullivan during talks on Tuesday morning to a permanent armed response unit in Dublin area.
“That effectively has been put in place at present, but that will become a permanent initiative over the next few months,” she said.
The Justice Minister said conflicting claims supposedly from the breakaway republican faction Continuity IRA – both claiming responsibility and distancing itself from the Regency hotel shootings – were still being investigated.
“We’ve had claim and counter-claim, that is still under investigation,” she said.
“Like all other lines of investigation it has to be taken very seriously, and will be pursued as a line of investigation.”
Ms Fitzgerald also defended the emergency response to the attack, despite claims that several 999 calls from the hotel went unanswered in the immediate aftermath.
There were at least 18 calls made to 999, she said, with the first responders on the scene within a minute, and back up within five minutes.
The minister said the response times were acceptable “by any standard” and claims that calls went unanswered would be investigated.
She said she wasn’t aware of anyone coming forward after an appeal was made to gangland figures fearing for their lives to get in contact with gardai.
The new support unit will be made up of 55 officers, according to the Department of Justice.
It will be in addition to the existing heavily-armed Emergency Response Unit, which has been drafted onto the streets.
The measures are part of a 5 million euro package agreed to beef up security, including more street checkpoints and patrols.
Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman Niall Collins described the response as weak and panicked.
“This is characteristic of a weak Justice Minister who is always behind the curve on crime,” he added.