Gardaí have been operating a 24-hour policing service in Drogheda since the gang feud there erupted again last week with the murder of teenager Keane Mulready-Woods.
An extra unit has been posted to provide an around-the-clock armed presence in the Co Louth town.
Drogheda is one of a number of feud-hit areas where officers from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) are deployed to back regional-based Armed Support Units (ASUs).
Senior officers prioritise before deciding where extra armed gardaí are sent as, apart from Drogheda, violent gangland rows are ongoing in Dublin’s Coolock, Finglas, Ballymun and Ronanstown as well as Roscommon-Longford, and gardaí also need to maintain a strong, armed deployment to monitor the Kinahan-Hutch feud.
Like most Garda specialised units, the ERU is not yet operating at the strength that existed before the overall size of the Garda force was allowed to diminish because of a recruitment ban in the wake of Ireland’s economic collapse.
But vacancies are expected to be filled this year as approval has been granted for new members to be recruited.
Both the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors say the ERU does not have the officers, resources, training or equipment to provide armed back-up when required.
However, these claims are rejected by the Garda authorities, who, while acknowledging there are some vacancies at the moment at garda and sergeant rank, say the ERU is able to cope with demands.
They also dismissed complaints about the adequacy of equipment such as bullet- proof vests, saying these are tested every year.
The role of the ERU has changed in the past couple of years as it came under the responsibility of the Special Tactics and Operations Command (STOC) division. STOC has overall command of the ERU, the ASUs and national negotiation unit and has created its own training unit.
ASUs are now geared to respond to armed incidents including gang shootings in their own area and this has allowed the ERU to focus on issues that it was originally designed to combat.
These include action against terrorist groups, barricade and hostage-taking incidents, specific crimes where it is assessed that Garda firepower may be required, such as last year’s Garda operation against a gang involved in ATM thefts, interception of suspect vehicles and enhancing security at big events and for the visits of VIPs, who included US President Donald Trump, his Vice President Mike Pence and Prince Charles.
Disputing claims that gardaí in Drogheda had to wait hours for armed support during the feud, senior officers said an ASU was first at the scene of the shooting of an innocent taxi driver in Drogheda as well as at the gun attack on two lorry drivers in north Dublin.
Since the creation of a third Border-based ASU in December, the presence of Dublin-based officers on a temporary basis, often funded by overtime, has been scaled back.
Garda chiefs say most of the training is done “on the job”, with one unit involved in training exercises while deployed on the streets and this unit can then be switched to operational duties, if required.