29 January 2006

IRA 'community policing' fears behind reserves plan

Sunday Independent

JIM CUSACK

FEARS of IRA plans to set up "community" policing groups in the Republic are believed to be behind the Government's decision to push ahead with the controversial Garda voluntary reserve force.

Senior gardai and officials have been increasingly concerned at the setting up of a republican police force in the North - promoted and controlled by Sinn Fein.

The development has also alarmed the SDLP, which has already dubbed the vigilante groups as the "RA Specials" - after the old RUC reserve force, the B Specials, which were widely distrusted by Catholics.

The Government and the SDLP believe republicans are trying to ensure continued control of nationalist areas. Sinn Fein has consistently refused to support the new police force in the North, the PSNI, despite the implementation of huge reforms since the disbandment of the RUC.

Both the Government and the SDLP now believe the IRA and Sinn Fein will try and stop Catholics from co-operating with the PSNI. Sinn Fein tells people not to have anything to do with the PSNI but to report crimes to their local republican activists.

In the past year, these "community" policing initiatives - some under the guise of Community Restorative Justice schemes - have spread throughout Catholic areas of the North. The Government's fear is that if Sinn Fein succeeds with this initiative in the North, it will then target working class areas of Dublin, and maybe elsewhere, in order to stamp its control on these communities.

According to Government sources, the new Garda reserve is being set up in the way that the Defence Forces' reserve, the old FCA, was set up to stop young men being attracted into the IRA.

Ironically, one of the main concerns of regular gardai about the establishment of a voluntary reserve force is that it might easily be infiltrated by the IRA or organised criminals seeking access to sensitive Garda computer files.

The proposal to go ahead with the recruitment of some 900 volunteer part-timers this year was described as "ill thought-out" and "dangerous" by the president of the Garda Representative Association, Dermot O'Donnell.

"There is no doubt in the minds of very many gardai that this is a bad thing. It is very clear to us that subversives and criminals will use this is a way to infiltrate the Garda Siochana. There are very great dangers in this and we are very concerned, not just as an association but as servants of the State charged with the protection of itscitizens.

"We have a very elaborate system of checks and balances which are there to ensure that certain people do not get through the net. The present recruitment and training process enables the Garda to ensure recruits are of the highest character.

"The present training process takes 52 weeks, yet the new Act says that these reservists can be given full powers with only 24 hours' training. The proposal to give people with such little training and almost no background checks the power to arrest with force is frightening.

"This will open the door for organised criminals and subversives and I'm sure they smell the opportunity already. It would be easy to infiltrate a reserve like this. There would be huge ramifications if that were to happen. The security of every citizen in this State is at stake."

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has already dubbed the proposed reserve a "mad-hatter scheme". President Joe Darwin said that, with little vetting and only 24 hours of training, reservists could have access to secret information on the Garda's computers.

He said: "The minister was expecting ordinary citizens to get involved in the highly dangerous profession of policing, without reward.

"What will the minister say to the members of the reserve, and their families, when they come under attack - as they inevitably will - and there is serious injury or even death?

"How are members of the public going to react to being arrested by a part-time, pretend police person," he asked.

"At present, fully trained members of the service, with years of experience behind them, find the job so difficult that they are retiring in large numbers - how will these part-time, voluntary people cope with the huge difficulties of the job. How will they deal with intravenous drug users, for instance?" the AGSI president said.

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