It’s probably not a well-known fact that bulletproof vests have a use-by date, and that after that date passes, they cannot be trusted to stop a bullet. But it’s the absolute truth. This is because most bulletproof vests are made using Kevlar, which is a chemical compound like any other, and can degrade:

“Like any chemical compound, the ones used to make up the panels inside your vest will eventually degrade. This is true whether the vest is made of Kevlar, a composite, or a combination of industrial fibers. Of course, there are a variety of factors that influence exactly how fast the typical body armor breaks down, including exposure to moisture, UV light, and overall use. A vest that’s worn every day in a humid environment is going to expire sooner than a vest that’s only worn on weekends in a dry climate. Body armor won’t suddenly go bad on its expiration date, but expired vests aren’t rated to protect you with the same consistency and reliability as non-expired vests.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that a bullet is going to penetrate an expired bullet proof vest. You might get lucky. Or you might not.

If anything, it’s more likely that the vest will warp or bend on impact. So, while you might not be penetrated by a bullet, you’ll suffer a significant blunt tissue injury from the vest slamming into you at supersonic speed.

This is the situation facing almost every member of the Gardai’s emergency response unit, who reveal today that basically all of their bullet proof vests are past their sell-by dates:

“The GRA claims lifesaving equipment is out of date, all bulletproof vests are well past the manufacturer’s warranty and some are ten years old. Newer members, he said, have been issued with out of date second-hand heavy-duty body armour.

“All bulletproof vests currently on issue to the ERU are well past the manufacturer’s warranty. Some are over 10 years old at this stage which is not acceptable,” Mr O’ Neill, a former president of the GRA writes.

“I am informed that newer members to the unit have not been issued with covert bulletproof vests. They have been issued second-hand heavy-duty body armour which is out of manufacturer’s warranty. All this equipment has a shelf life; thus the manufacturer places a specific warranty on the item. If the equipment is out of warranty it is not fit for purpose.”

Some are ten years old? The average rated lifetime limit for a bullet proof vest is five years. That is to say, we have Gardai going into work wearing protective clothing that stopped being guaranteed to protect them five years ago.

That is only the most astonishing revelation from the Garda Emergency Response unit today. There’s plenty more where that came from, courtesy of the national broadcaster:

“Vital necessary training days for a specialist unit have also been cancelled due to the requirement to deal with urgent incidents, and he claims that all Emergency Response First Responders’ qualifications have expired and no provision has been made to rectify this.

“As the members of the Emergency Response Unit are the most likely members in An Garda Síochána to be faced with a police related shooting,” he writes, “it is vital that all these members are suitably qualified to provide immediate First Aid to any person once a scenario has been deemed safe.”

In other words, the public servants in Ireland who are most likely to be at a scene where people have suffered serious injuries and need emergency first aid are also people who the state is not bothering to train in first aid.

But that’s hardly relevant. There’s at least a good chance they won’t be on the scene anyway:

“The letter by GRA delegate Ciarán O’Neill says that “the decision to cut overtime means that this organisation in my opinion, does not at times have the available resources to deal with a serious terrorist or serious firearms incident and as such will leave our unarmed colleagues on the front line without adequate protection”.Recent examples of this, it claims, are that last week in Drogheda where a murderous feud is centred, gardaí called for armed back up but were waiting for hours, while last Friday there was no Emergency Response Unit available for any call.”

Imagine being a Garda, having armed criminals shooting at you, and calling for emergency backup only to be told that it might come in a few hours. Not that you can blame the ERU, mind you – if your bulletproof vest was five years out of date, you might not be rushing to the scene of a gunfight either.

It goes without saying that the men and women of the armed response unit are some of the bravest public servants that we have. There are plenty of public servants – regular gardai and firefighters and coastguards to name just a few – who regularly put themselves in danger to save the public. But the ERU are the only people who walk into situations where other people with guns are actively trying to kill them. And the state either cannot, or will not, provide them with the tools and training that they need to do their jobs.

A picture is emerging of the department of Justice under Minister Flanagan that is far from pretty. While he has focused nearly all his time on unimportant issues like people saying mean things on the internet, organised crime has flourished, and the capacity of the Gardai to fight it has been eroded. The fact that we have young men and women going into actual gunfights with armed gangs without working equipment says it all.

Addressing this kind of thing is the reason we all have votes in the first place. It’s important that you use yours.