Three Government Ministers will be given 24-hour armed Garda protection amid growing threats from extremist groups, the Irish Mirror can reveal.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe at Finance and Michael McGrath, who holds the Public Expenditure brief, will get close protection officers.
After senior gardai carried out a risk assessment which revealed threats from the far right and far left, Commissioner Drew Harris increased security.
We understand the new safety measures will mean civilian drivers will be replaced by armed officers driving official State cars.
The CPOs are specially trained both as drivers and as bodyguards.
One Justice Department source said: “Menacing messages have been posted online and mailed directly to ministers.
“So if they are heading into the Dail, or simply for a pint, they will have armed Garda protection from these CPOs.”
Some threats are understood to have been made in person.
They include warnings of harm and of ‘citizen’s arrest’ – which essentially amounts to abduction – while there are fears that threats to life will be made.
Last night, senior Justice Department sources revealed the danger to Mr Donnelly is believed to be the most severe.
The father-of-three had a 6ft wooden fence erected outside his Co Wicklow home earlier this year following a number of incidents at the property.
A source said: “There is an campaign of intimidation against Mr Donnelly.
“That’s there to be seen with pickets outside his home and there is a really sinister element to it now.”
Sources also indicated Mr Donohoe has been targeted from a group within his own Dublin central constituency. Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was assigned full-time armed bodyguards from the Garda’s elite Special Detective Unit after intimidation.
One source said Commissioner Harris was shocked after an incident where a woman threw a milkshake at the Tanaiste on Merrion Square in September last year.
There has also been a rise in protests outside TDs homes by anti-vaxxers, including those of Varadkar and Donnelly’s in recent months.
The dangers were brought into sharp focus by the murder of British MP David Amess at his constituency office in October.
Another source said: “This move might spell the beginning of the end to the unprecedented access with political figures here.
“Gardai carried out a risk assessments, there was the murder of Mr Amess and there have been incidents highlighted on social media of people outside politicians’ homes protesting.
“Gardai have been left with no option here but to act because of legitimate concerns for these politicians’ welfare.”
State cars and armed Garda bodyguards for all Government ministers were scrapped after the General election of 2011.
The country had just come through an economic crash and the incoming Fine Gael-led Government wanted to convince the public it was serious about cutting costs.
A senior Government source last night confirmed to the Irish Mirror that three ministers are being assigned armed bodyguards and drivers by the gardai.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney already had armed protection.
The President, Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions also have close protection officers.