Last week, news broke that the next round of training for the Garda armed support unit, ASU, had been cancelled. I raised the matter in the House during questions on promised legislation. The competition to fill places on this course was completed back in 2019.
Those selected gardaí have been waiting since 2019 to take part in this armed support unit training. These gardaí effectively have had to put elements of their personal lives on hold while they wait on standby for their start date. It now appears that with a click of the fingers, this training course is gone and they have waited in vain. Garda headquarters said claims that the 2019 competition has been halted are incorrect. However, Garda membership say the message has been delivered clearly to them that it has been cancelled.
There were widespread media reports last week that the armed support unit across Dublin had barely enough resources to be operational and is only at 75% capacity. Last year alone, there were more than 2,500 weapons and explosive offences across the State. Ireland has a high rate of gun violence. Our gun murder rate is six times that of Britain and one of the highest across the EU.
Of course, it is not only firearms incidents to which the armed support unit responds. It is called upon daily to deal with the growing use of knives by gangs. Over a four-year period, the number of knife seizures in Dublin across most divisions has doubled. Local residents in City Quay have raised the issue before. They are still living in dread. I acknowledge that the Garda has put in place a plan to tackle the random street violence and use of knives in City Quay and in the Creighton Street and Pearse Street areas. That has been very welcome and has made a difference. Residents still live in dread, however. Young people are hiding weapons and knives in the bushes of Elizabeth O'Farrell Park in City Quay. It is still a community in fear. It is really important that the armed support unit is resourced properly.
The increasing use of weapons such as guns and knives is a cause for concern, not just for working-class communities but also the rank-and-file gardaí who patrol the streets. When a 999 call comes in regarding a possible knife or gun crime, it is the armed support unit that gardaí turn to for backup. How does it instil confidence in the public when we hear reports of gardaí having to wait up to three hours for support? The feud that has already claimed one life in Finglas is at boiling point. Gangland tension is rising across Dublin and spilling over into different parts of the city, including my own constituency of Dublin Bay South. Recently in Digges Street, shots were fired through a window at a family who were all at home. It was a case of mistaken identity. The perpetrators thought it was a different flat. That family is terrified; they are afraid go back home now.
Will the Minister of State comment on the current status of the next round of training for the Dublin region armed support unit? I understand the Government may be of the view that this an internal matter for An Garda Síochána and that it is independent in its allocation of resources. Naturally, it always says that but things have got so bad that it is very important the Government intervenes to ensure resources are in place to allow the armed support unit to make sure our communities right across the inner city are safe. Currently, that feeling is not there. The Garda and armed support unit need to be resourced properly.