Security boosted for Cabinet members

GARDA SECURITY around Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Cabinet members has been stepped up following the paint attack on Minister for Health Mary Harney, amid fears of similar attacks in the weeks ahead.

It is also understood that thousands of gardaí around the country are being given special riot training as part of the force’s plans to handle any potential public unrest leading up to and following the budget.

Garda sources said security around Mr Cowen and Ministers will be increased any time they appear in public.

While they always travel in the company of their Garda drivers, who double as armed bodyguards, local superintendents have been asked to provide added security.

“It will be a case of the local superintendent reviewing any event that a Minister is going to appear at and providing extra resources to increase security at those events,” said one informed source.

Other sources said the additional security to be placed around the Ministers will include a high-visibility presence of uniformed gardaí and plain-clothes armed detectives.

There was additional security around Mr Cowen yesterday as he attended an event in Dublin hosted by the Small Firms Association.

Ms Harney was splashed with red paint at the unveiling of a health facility in Ballyfermot, Dublin, last Monday.

Senior sources have confirmed that courses in handling public order issues are being run around the country. Teams of gardaí are being taken through riot scenarios, and trained on how to react.

A number of live exercises have been run in recent weeks on a regional basis.

Gardaí dressed in riot gear have been brought through possible scenarios they may encounter during public protests in the weeks ahead against the austerity measures to be unveiled in the budget.

However, senior Garda sources said the force did not want to exaggerate the possible flashpoints that may lie ahead.

“We don’t think a march planned by a union would turn into a major issue, but there is the chance that a peaceful event could be hijacked by a hardcore element looking to take on gardaí,” said one source.

Garda sources said while large numbers of gardaí have undergone the riot training in recent weeks, these would only be called on as a last resort.

They would only form part of contingency plans for protest events, rather than be included in the main policing plans for such occasions.

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