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Monday 5 June 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Twitter Minister Simon Coveney and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv.
# Army ranger Wing
Security dispute after ERU Gardaí used instead of Army Rangers for Coveney visit to Ukraine
The Foreign Affairs Minister travelled to Kyiv yesterday protected by armed gardaí from the Emergency Response Unit.

A SECURITY ROW HAS erupted after Government officials used gardaí instead of military special forces to accompany Minister Simon Coveney on a trip to Ukraine. 

The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) is traditionally used to protect Government ministers on trips to warzones, such as the time then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar went travelled to Mali in 2019, 

Coveney was on a diplomatic visit to Kyiv yesterday, but an internal security dispute arose after it was decided to send the Garda’s Emergency Response Unit instead of the ARW.

Cathal Berry TD, a former deputy commander of the ARW, strongly criticised the move and called out the Department of Foreign Affairs for clearing the Ranger Wing snub.

“There’s a sense of betrayal in the wing and the broader Defence Forces that again they have been overlooked to do a role they have done in the past,” he said. 

“The ARW are trained to the highest standard in close protection but this is an active warzone and it just beggars belief that they would send police instead of specialist military personnel to do this role. 

“The ERU is a specialist crime fighting group and have had huge success against criminals but this is different.”

Berry also claimed that Gardaí do not have secure communications in the way the ARW would, and that the force also lacks experience in dealing with heavy ordnance or with highly trained military units.

“Ultimately this is the wrong unit to send to the area,” he added.

“It should be the army doing this job. It has always been this way and what has changed – it shows very bad decision making by Government and this needs to be clarified urgently.” 

A senior garda source with knowledge of the deployment said that the decision to use the ERU was taken after a risk assessment. 

“The gardaí handle the security of ministers and it was decided on this occasion that the ERU would do the close protection work,” they explained.  

When contacted, spokespersons for the Gardaí, Department of Justice, Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence Forces refused to comment.

Sources have said that the garda unit sent to protect Coveney was small in size, with some using full special forces-style kits and others using plain clothes.

They received assistance from Ukraine military special forces and local security forces in Poland. Coveney travelled with the team to Poland aboard an Air Corps aircraft.  

The Mali trip in 2019 has not been the only time the ARW has protected Government officials abroad.

Mali trip Twitter Leo Varadkar and Paul Kehoe during their Mali visit. Two ARW Operators can be seen, one with his face obscured, in the image. Twitter

The wing also carries out regular close protection work in the Middle East and has provided security for senior UN and Irish Government officials in Lebanon.

Last year it helped to rescue Irish citizens during the fall of Kabul.

The recent Commission on the Future of Defence report also recommended co-ordination and formalised operating procedures between the ERU and ARW.

A security source, with knowledge of ARW operations, said that the ARW have specialist working arrangements on such missions including the deployment of a specialist doctor.

“I would question any threat assessment undertaken by the gardaí and Department that concluded it was acceptable to travel without military support,” they said.

“This would include advanced military support such as advanced medical care, secure communications and electronic counter measures for explosive devices.

“The fact that this wasn’t requested points either to a dysfunctional relationship between gardaí and Defence Forces or it points to a complete lack of awareness by Department of Defence or Foreign Affairs officials.”