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TASER ELECTRIC shock weapons are to be used by the Garda's new Regional Support Units (RSUs) following Cabinet approval.
It represents the first time the weapons will be carried by uniformed gardaí.
The tasers, however, will be kept locked in vehicles until RSU members are called on to respond to serious incidents.
Until now the weapons have only been used by the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), a plain-clothes unit which deals with serious armed crime.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern last Wednesday brought a proposal to Cabinet seeking to allow RSU members to carry and use the stun guns when necessary.
The proposal was approved, and it is understood the weapons are to be made available immediately.
A spokesman for Mr Ahern said when approval was given last year for the ERU to have access to the weapons it was envisaged such use would be extended to the RSUs on their establishment.
The new RSUs were formally unveiled two weeks ago at the Garda College, Templemore, by assistant commissioner Nacie Rice.
Two pilot units have been put in place in Cork and Limerick, with a view to extending the scheme nationwide next year.
The RSUs were recommended by the Garda Inspectorate, which believes they should be used to contain armed incidents pending the arrival of the ERU to a dangerous scene.
Members of the RSUs will conduct conventional uniformed patrols in their marked Garda vehicles.
However, they will be on standby to offer armed support when their uniformed colleagues encounter any armed incidents in the line of duty.
When such armed incidents arise, members of the RSUs will place a sticker on their vehicles clearly stating the vehicle is carrying armed personnel.
The RSU members will also carry a number of items of uniform intended to differentiate them from conventional unarmed uniformed gardaí. These include baseball caps, shirts and jackets.
The RSU members will then access a secure compartment in their vehicles where their weapons are stored.
They will arm themselves and make their way to the scene of the armed incident where they are needed.
The taser weapons will be locked in the secure compartments with a range of other lethal and less-than-lethal weapons.
The greater use of taser weapons is supported by many Garda members. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has urged the Government to issue the weapons to all armed Garda members.
AGSI general secretary Joe Dirwan told The Irish Times such a move would enable gardaí to subdue threatening suspects and negate the need to shoot them with firearms, which can often result in fatalities.
The taser weapon sends an electric shock through a target, incapacitating them for a short period and enabling police to restrain or arrest them. Most people make a full recovery after a short period.
However, Amnesty International has said nearly 300 people have died as a result of being shot with the weapon in the US and Canada since 2001.
Since the weapon's use was approved for the ERU last year it has been used a number of times in the Republic. It was used most recently in May in Dublin during the arrest of a man carrying a pipe bomb.
The devices have also been imported by criminal elements and used in the course of robberies.
In June a man working in a Cork city jewellers was stunned with a taser by raiders who stole his stock.
© 2008 The Irish Times
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