I take your point that Gardai work long shifts in all weather conditions. I also acknowledge that the uniform is unlikely to facilitate the rigourous physical demands that can be placed on members. However, I stand firm that community support is the most effective weapon that the Gardai can ever have. I also feel strongly that this would only be depleted by "militarising" uniforms. Thus, t-shirts and combat trousers get a thumbs down from my corner.
I'll concede that certain aspects are comical and should be taken out of service; such as the tie. I can only assume (and hope) that it is a clip-on, as otherwise it would be dangerous, offering considerable leverage to a suspect to cause harm during a struggle.
I recognise the dangers that Gardai face every day with regards gun-crime, and without attempting to play down the significance of recorded incidents as a whole and on the individual, I would advise that statistically, the Gardai are relatively safe in this arena. Comparble figures from abroad (such as the United States) are much more frightening. Below, I listed two reasons which I believe account (at least in part) for this:
1) As an unarmed police force, An Garda Siochana presents a low level of threat to the physical integrity of an armed criminal. Thus, unless said criminal has psychopathic tendencies and is devoid from emotion and conscience, it is unlikely that s/he would depress a trigger to evade aprehension. Coupled with the current state of sentencing within the criminal justice system, an armed robber might sooner surrender to arrest and recieve 5 years (to serve 2) than shoot a Garda and recieve 15 (to serve 10).
2) There is clearly a cultural difference with regards guns between both jurisdictions.
Thus, I would argue that arming Gardai would not result in increased personal or public safety. Rather, the opposite. Also, it's worth noting that merely arming the Gardai would not consequent a decrease in the now spiralling gang related gun crime. A Garda would have to be present at a scene to intervene; armed or otherwise.
With regards to ballistic vests: Yes, they would certainly offer better protection from gun shots. However, they would only offer protection from smaller rounds such as a 9mm parabellum. Most balistic vests do not offer adequate protection from say the larger 5.56 or 7.62 calibre varieties. The latter is of greater concern given it's longer range, larger stopping power and the fact that the majority of residual weapons from the troubles operate with it (i.e., Kalashnikov assault rifles). In any case, a trade off must be seen also. Ballistic vests require much heavier slabs than stab-proof ones. Thus, a Garda's mobility would be impaired further, to the detriment of comfort and efficacy.
If we want to increase the safety of Gardai on the street, then training facilities for serving members within the organisation needs to be adequate. My understanding is that this is currently not the case. I would still argue for regional deployment of ERU styled teams. I would further argue that members of the DDU be obliged to attend national training that would afford them the tactical capabilities to act effectively in high risk situations where the arival of the ERU cannot be waited for (i.e., hostage taking incidents where the suspect(s) begins killing his/her captors). I imagine this would not be incredibly resource intensive or difficult to organise.
OTHER WAYS TO INCREASE SAFETY WITHOUT ARMING UNIFORMED MEMBERS:
1) I would have no objections to the use of C0 gases in critical incidents.
2) I would have no objections to the use of TASERS.
(Both would have to be accompanied by appropriate training in first aid)
3) Lookin to the MET, (If I'm wrong, please tell me), uniformed officers generally do not carry weapons. However, they can. Met vehicles with diagonal markings denote armed police who can be called for assistance when needed. We could learn from this. Adopting a similar system, "On-the-beat" Gardai could remain unarmed. However, appropriately qualified Gardai could have access to weaponry secured in the boot of a vehicle. However, to have any uniformed Garda carrying "on-th-hip", so to speak, would have disatrous consequences in my opinion.
As for Abbeylara and Lusk, I do not feel it appropriate to discuss same in a public nature given their contentious nature and tragic outcomes.
Finally, I stress that I do not underplay the seriousness of every incident where a member of AGS has been injured or killed, by gun or otherwise. I commend their bravery.
As the man said, "evil prevails when good men fail to act".