The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and a senior Garda officer are holding separate investigations into the treatment of two women who were arrested during protests over the Corrib gas project late last week.
Members of the force were inadvertently recorded on a video camera they had earlier confiscated joking about threatening to deport and rape one of the women who had refused to give her name to officers.
The video camera was not fully switched off after it was seized by gardaí and it recorded exchanges between several gardaí in the vehicle in which they were travelling.
The two women were arrested on a public road last Thursday about 30 minutes after one of them had been taken down from the roof of a tractor hired for Shell’s preparatory work on the Corrib gas pipeline at Aughoose. Both women were released without charge.
They are upset about the exchanges that were recorded and say they were manhandled by several officers during their arrest near the Shell compound for the new Corrib gas pipeline route in north Mayo.
The woman who was carrying the video camera says she had her arms forced until she dropped the camera, and sustained bruising. Her colleague says she was treated in an “unnecessarily physical fashion”.
Both women said they wished not to be named, and neither wanted to comment on the record on the incident.
Supt Pat Diskin of Belmullet Garda station said a senior garda from outside the division had been appointed to “establish the facts and report on the matter”.
The women were arrested for public order-related offences, and a file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission said today it has also begun an investigation into the incident. “GSOC has not received a complaint relating to this matter, but is empowered … to investigate matters where the Commission feels it is in the public interest to do so.”
Speaking this afternoon, Kieran FitzGerald from the Ombudsman Commission said: "The reported conduct of the gardaí is of such a nature as to warrant an investigation because it alleges some serious remarks and some serious conduct, which, if proven, would reflect badly on society in general and the Garda Síochána in particular."
Mr FitzGerald told RTÉ radio it was important the public was reassured that an independent inquiry would take place, adding there had been several previous complaints relating to policing surrounding the Corrib gas pipeline since the Ombudsman Commission was set up in 2007.
An academic at NUI Maynooth, where one of the women is studying, has condemned as “outrageous” the content of some recorded conversation. The camera on which the exchanges were recorded is believed to have been the property of the college.
It was some hours after their release that the women discovered their camera, which was returned to them, had not been switched off. It was in the possession of gardaí leaving the scene in a separate car, and during the journey it had recorded exchanges between several gardaí.
One garda can be heard on the tape saying that one of the women “sounds like a Yank or Canadian”. Another garda said: “well, whoever, we’ll get immigration f***ing on her.”
A more senior garda picked up the conversation, saying “she refused to give her name and address and [was] told she would be arrested”.
“And deported,” his colleague continued.
“And raped,” the more senior garda said.
The conversation continued in jocular fashion, with the more senior garda saying: “Give me your name and address or I’ll rape you.”
Amid some laughter, another garda said: “Hold it there, give me your name and address there, I’ll rape you.”
“Or I’ll definitely rape you,” the more senior garda responded.
The 37-minute recording also features differences of opinion between the gardaí in the car over use of equipment and training to deal with protests. One garda expressed concern about responsibility in court proceedings if a protester was injured during removal, and it transpired that there was insufficient equipment or training. His senior disagreed, and said it was a matter of “common sense”.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre today said the alleged comments made about the protesters were "unacceptable."
"Making suggestive comments about rape and sexual assault is not funny whatever the situation or circumstances," said chief executive Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop. "Comments of this nature are totally unacceptable in any context but are much more serious when made by people in authority and who are supposed to be the guardians of our society."
The National Women’s Council of Ireland called on the Garda Commissioner to act.
“Joking about raping women is never funny,” said chief executive Susan McKay. “Women need to be reassured that if they are raped or sexually assaulted they can report it to gardai who understand that these are deeply traumatic experiences. They must not be left wondering if their distress will be a source of amusement.”
The council also called on the Commissioner to reverse cuts to spending on education and training in rape awareness for gardai. “While we are aware that many gardai respond sensitively and carefully to victims of sexual violence, It is blatantly obvious that for some officers at least, such training is urgently required,” said Ms McKay.
Sex abuse support group One in Four said it was astonished by the comments.
“Gardaí have spent years trying to change the culture relating to sexual violence in the force, and nowadays most victims of sexual crime have a positive experience when reporting to the gardaí," executive director Maeve Lewis said. “However, the terrifying comments made to the arrested women make us question how much that culture has really changed, and will certainly undermine the confidence of victims in reporting crime.”
Dr Bríd Connolly, lecturer in NUI Maynooth’s adult and community education department, confirmed that one of the women arrested was a student at the college. “This recording is an affront to women, an affront to freedom to protest, and rape is not a joking matter,” Dr Connolly said. “How can women who have been assaulted have any confidence in the Garda if this is the sort of attitude that prevails?
“It undermines the work done with the Garda by rape crisis centres and Women’s Aid, and takes us back 40 to 50 years,” Dr Connolly added.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said he was disgusted by the comments. “The gardaí have a lot of questions to answer around it,” Mr O’Brien said. “For somebody to put their trust in the gardaí and to have it betrayed in this manner, it’s not on and it’s very disturbing.”
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