Special Detective Unit

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Garda Special Detective Unit
Aonad Speisialta Bleachtaireachta
Agency overview
Formed July 11, 1921; 93 years ago (1921-07-11) as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)
Preceding Agency Garda Special Branch
Jurisdiction Ireland
Headquarters Harcourt Street, Dublin (D2)
53°20′03.5″N 6°15′50.3″W / 53.334306°N 6.263972°W / 53.334306; -6.263972
Employees Undisclosed (estimated 200-300)
Annual budget Undisclosed (part of Garda Síochána budget, €1.34 billion in 2014)
Minister responsible Minister for Justice and Equality
Parent agency Crime & Security Branch
Badge of An Garda Síochána.gif Garda Síochána
Website Official website

The Special Detective Unit (SDU) (Irish: Aonad Speisialta Bleachtaireachta) is the main domestic security agency of the Garda Síochána, the national police force of Ireland, under the aegis of the Crime & Security Branch (CSB).[1] It is the primary counter-terrorism and counter-espionage investigative unit in the country. The Special Detective Unit superseded the "Special Branch" (which they are still commonly referred to as), which itself replaced the older Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which was founded in 1921. They work in conjunction with the Defence Forces Directorate of Intelligence (G2) - Ireland's national intelligence agency - on internal matters. The unit's headquarters are based in Harcourt Street, Dublin City.

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU), a specialist armed tactical unit, is a division of the SDU.


The responsibilities of the Garda Síochána Special Detective Unit include;

SDU bodyguards accompany the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins on official visits in Ireland and internationally, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny is protected by a Close Protection detail from the SDU, as are senior government ministers. Ambassadors and high-ranking foreign diplomats in Ireland are given protection by the SDU when their safety or security is deemed at risk, and foreign diplomatic premises are also protected by the unit, such as the embassies and diplomatic residences of the United States (Chancery & Deerfield Residence), United Kingdom and Israel in Dublin.[2]

Organisational structure[edit]

A tactical team from the Special Detective Unit's Emergency Response Unit

The Special Detective Unit operates out of the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) Headquarters of the Gardaí in Harcourt St, Dublin, and has personnel in all six Garda regions (DMR, Eastern, Northern, Southern, South-Eastern and Western). The unit has a number of secret buildings in Ireland, which it uses for covert operations. The SDU has a strength of between 200 and 300 plainclothes detectives, and a further 100 officers attached to the Emergency Response Unit.[3] The agency is headed by a Detective Chief Superintendent, who is under the command of the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Crime & Security Branch (CSB), who reports directly to the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner briefs the Minister for Justice and Equality, Taoiseach and the National Security Committee (NSC) on state security matters. The SDU uses anti-terrorism legislation (chiefly the Offences against the State Acts) to conduct operations, and uses the non-jury Special Criminal Court to prosecute terrorism offenders. In 2013, the Republic of Ireland had the fourth highest number of arrests for terrorism-related offences in the entire European Union, with 41 individuals arrested, behind only France (225), Spain (90) and the United Kingdom (77), according to Europol.[4] The average prison sentence for a person convicted under terrorism legislation in Ireland was 12 years in 2013, the third highest in the EU, behind Greece (27 years) and Spain (14 years).[5] The SDU is a highly secretive organisation that does its utmost to stay out of the media spotlight, and when officers from the unit appear in court they routinely give evidence anonymously from behind a screen to protect their identity. All officers within the unit carry firearms, and train more often than regular police detectives. Agents are armed with concealed semi-automatic pistols, and if the situation requires, they have access to shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles. The SDU has a large pool of unmarked and armoured cars, and has access to helicopters if needed. The budget for the SDU is classified, although it is drawn from the overall Garda budget (€1.34 billion in 2014). The only published figures are those for the budget to pay confidential informants, via the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) system. The funds used to pay informers is known as the "Secret Service" budget, and it is shared between the Crime & Security Branch and Directorate of Intelligence (G2). In 2014, it was €1 million.[6] Although the service's jurisdiction is the Republic of Ireland, officers from the unit have been active in Northern Ireland (UK).[7]

Emergency Response Unit[edit]

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) is the national armed tactical intervention unit of the Gardaí, and a subsection of the Special Detective Unit.[8] The ERU's manpower is approximately 100 fulltime officers, who are trained and equipped for a range of situations which other Garda units may be unable to deal with. The SDU and ERU carry out joint operations.[9]


A close protection officer from the Special Detective Unit protecting Queen Elizabeth II in 2011

The Special Detective Unit works closely with other specialist and national units within the Garda Síochána, namely the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) - a police intelligence gathering agency - and the heavily armed intervention teams of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), which is itself a section of the SDU. The Defence Forces Directorate of Intelligence (G2) - Ireland's national intelligence agency - shares intelligence, trains with and carries out joint operations with the unit. The SDU has historically operated in tandem with British, American and other European law enforcement agencies in combating terrorists and foreign government threats. They maintain a strong working relationship with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), British Security Services (MI5) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), among others, and share information with Europol and Interpol.

An MI5 unit based at the regional headquarters (Palace Barracks) in Holywood, County Down in Northern Ireland works with both the PSNI and Gardai to track the activities of domestic and foreign terrorist threats, and in 2008 this led to the discovery of a suspected al-Qaeda bomb making factory in County Kerry, where three people were arrested, some of whom had previously been under surveillance by the Special Detective Unit's Middle Eastern Desk[10] and National Surveillance Unit.[11] SDU officers have conducted operations alongside the Irish Directorate of Intelligence, and the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and FBI in monitoring, arresting and prosecuting suspected al-Qaeda extremists using Ireland as a launchpad for terror attacks on Europe and the US.[12] The agency was involved in foiling several radical Islamic militants in Cork suspected of plotting to assassinate Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks in 2009, in response to an al-Qaeda in Iraq bounty after the Muhammad drawings controversy, working with British and American intelligence agencies.[13][14]

In 2010, the branch broke-up what was described by Europol as "one of the biggest and most sophisticated counterfeiting operations ever uncovered in Europe", which had the capacity to produce €200 million (£167 million/$276 million) in counterfeit banknotes annually, some of which were shipped as far away as Japan, in an attempt to fund IRA terrorist and criminal activities.[15]

The Special Detective Unit was the principal security agency involved in protecting Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on her historic visit to the Republic of Ireland in the summer of 2011, facing a significant threat from dissident republican paramilitary and terror organisations ("IRA"), and they scuppered a number of attempted bombings and assassination attempts to ensure a peaceful visit.[16][17] The SDU also worked alongside the United States Secret Service (USSS) and Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a heightened security state during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Ireland in 2011, fearing retaliation from al-Qaeda terrorists in response to the death of Osama bin Laden a number of weeks earlier. It was Obama's first trip overseas following the killing of bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in Pakistan, and his visit was deemed a major success.[18]

In May 2014, detectives from the Special Detective Unit discovered a large 66 lb (30 kg) car bomb in Lucan, Dublin, which was viable, included a timer power unit (TPU) and would be ready with a detonator attached. An Irish Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad made the device safe. A man known to Gardaí as member of the Real IRA was arrested and charged under terrorism legislation. SDU officers believe the destination of the explosive may have been the culmination of the Irish stage of the Giro d'Italia. The car bomb had a "kill range" of over 150 metres, "would have caused total devastation" and "would level the centre of a town" had it been detonated, according to SDU sources. The bombing was foiled by detectives acting on specific intelligence.[19][20][21]

Electronic surveillance[edit]

It has been alleged that the Special Detective Unit is involved in telephone tapping and email hacking of crime journalists in Ireland, to reveal the identify of sources that appear in newspaper stories on crime and terrorism. A number of journalists have accused the unit of monitoring their electronic communications, as well as carrying out covert surveillance on them when they are meeting sources in person. Some journalists allege they have been questioned about sources used in crime and terrorism stories, including about Garda officers speaking to the media when not sanctioned to do so by Garda management. Wiretapping by the authorities in Ireland is not illegal, unless used as evidence in court (which requires a warrant). The press have been asked not to publish certain stories which may jeopardise Garda operations, but say that the force has not attempted to influence reporting.[22]

In the month of January 2012 alone, Gardaí applied for 1,829 "requests for disclosure" from telecommunications and internet companies based in Ireland. There were 1,296 subscriber requests, 494 call trace requests and 39 IP (computer address) requests. Taken as an average monthly total, theoretically Gardaí would be seeking details of over 20,000 phone and broadband subscribers per annum. These requests have been investigated by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.[23]

Killed in the line of duty[edit]

A number of officers in the Garda Special Detective Unit have lost their lives in the course of serving the state since the early 1920s. Seven Special Branch detectives are known to have been unlawfully killed in the line of duty since 1940.[24]

       shaded rows denote when officers were killed in the same incident.

Rank Name Year of death Circumstances
Detective Sergeant Patrick McKeown 1940 Fatally wounded (shot) during raid on IRA safehouse, Dublin[25]
Detective Richard Hyland 1940 Fatally wounded (shot) during raid on IRA safehouse, Dublin[26]
Detective Sergeant Dennis O'Brien 1942 Assassinated (shot) by IRA members in his car, County Dublin[27]
Detective George Mordaunt 1942 Murdered (shot) during raid on criminal gang, Dublin[28]
Chief Superintendent Seán Gantly 1948 Accidentally shot dead while pursuing an escaped prisoner, Dublin[29]
Detective Frank Hand 1984 Fatally wounded (shot) during IRA robbery of cash-in-transit van, County Meath[30]
Detective Jerry McCabe 1996 Fatally wounded (shot) during IRA robbery of cash-in-transit van, County Limerick[31]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Crime & Security Branch / Special Detective Unit (SDU)". 1 January 2014. An Garda Síochána (Irish National Police). Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Cusack, Jim (8 August 2004). "Exposed: US embassy is top terror risk". Irish Independent. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Williams, Paul (17 September 2013). "Gardai firearms training cancelled due to cutbacks". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  4. ^ "European Union (EU) Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (Europol Te-Sat 2014)". 28 May 2014. European Police Office (Europol). Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  5. ^ O'Keeffe, Cormac (4 June 2014). "Irish jail terms for terrorists average at 12 years". The Irish Examiner. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "Irish Secret Service Budget 2014". 15 October 2013. Office of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. 2. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  7. ^ "‘Infiltrated’ claims follow mortar bid". "Irish Republican News". 8 March 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "An Garda Síochána Emergency Response Unit (ERU)". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Carty, Ed (2 December 2012). "Gardai swoop on dissidents after Real IRA funeral display". Irish Independent. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "Gardai in daily contact with MI5 to check on terror cells". Sunday World. 8 May 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  11. ^ McDonald, Henry (2 March 2008). "MI5 targets Ireland's al-Qaeda cells". The Observer (The Guardian Newspaper). Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Osama bin Laden's secret millions; Gardai vow to freeze al-Qaeda cash hidden away in Irish bank accounts". Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  13. ^ "Muslims Arrested Over Cartoonist Murder Plot". Sky News. 9 March 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  14. ^ "Arrests over alleged plot to kill cartoonist". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 9 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  15. ^ "IRA 'linked to €200M counterfeit cash bunker'". Belfast Telegraph. 14 June 2010. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  16. ^ Kelleher, Lynne (6 April 2014). "Arrests made to protect Queen, reveals Callinan". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  17. ^ McDonald, Henry (17 May 2011). "Queen's visit to Ireland: Garda foil plans to disrupt Dublin events". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  18. ^ "al-Qaeda threat to Obama Ireland visit". Sunday World. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  19. ^ Evans, Martin (12 May 2014). "Man arrested after huge car bomb is found in Dublin". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Williams, Paul (12 May 2014). "Huge bomb found as Giro d'Italia party hits town". Irish Independent. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  21. ^ O'Keeffe, Cormac (13 May 2014). "Bomb ‘could have levelled a town’". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  22. ^ McDonald, Henry (11 May 2012). "Irish journalists accuse police of 'Stasi-like' monitoring". Irish journalists accuse police of 'Stasi-like' monitoring. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  23. ^ Cusack, Jim (13 April 2014). "Under the Crime and Security regime, centralised intelligence gathering has expanded hugely". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  24. ^ "An Garda Síochána Roll of Honour List". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  25. ^ "McKeown, Patrick (An Garda Síochána Roll of Honour List)". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  26. ^ "Hyland, Richard (Roll of Honour List)". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  27. ^ "O’Brien, Denis (Roll of Honour List)". An Garda Síochána. 
  28. ^ "Mordaunt, George (Roll of Honour List)". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  29. ^ "Gantly, Sean (Roll of Honour List)". 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  30. ^ O'Reilly, Rita (10 May 2007). "Family of murdered Garda oppose release of killers". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  31. ^ "Minister Cullen Speaks at Detective Jerry McCabe Fellowship". 15 March 2006. Minister Martin Cullen. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°20′03.5″N 6°15′50.3″W / 53.334306°N 6.263972°W / 53.334306; -6.263972