Garda's son told father was 'scumbag' at GAA match

Gardaí cite examples of people recording them with ‘nefarious intent’

Sgt Pat Baldwin said in many cases when video and photographs of gardaí policing protests were published online, those viewing them were invited to comment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Sgt Pat Baldwin said in many cases when video and photographs of gardaí policing protests were published online, those viewing them were invited to comment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The young son of a garda was approached at a GAA match and told his father was a “scumbag” for policing a protest, after a social-media campaign was run against the garda.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said this incident was typical of the harassment members of the force and their families were being subjected to.

It wants to see the criminalising of videos and photographs of gardaí on duty taken with “nefarious intent” to later be published online with the specific goal of indentifying them.

Sgt Pat Baldwin from Kilkenny said in many cases when video and photographs of gardaí policing protests, for example, were published online, those viewing it were invited to comment.

And not only were people responding by naming gardaí they recognised, they were also naming their partners and children and offering details of their work and leisure routines.

“This is a very serious situation that has developed in the last number of years with the growth in social media and new forms of recording technology,” Sgt Baldwin said at the closing session of the AGSI’s annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry.

There were a large number of other cases in which people who had taken a dislike to particular Garda members had posted images of them online. And others had replied by sharing a range of personal and family information, up to and including photos and addresses of gardaí’s family homes.

Sgt Baldwin said all Garda members accepted they would be filmed at times while on duty. But the use of video and photos to identify and harass them and their families was unacceptable.

He said the AGSI was not against the mainstream media recording gardaí at protests. The mainstream media was governed by legislation and regulation in a way that people posting on social media were not.

Sgt Baldwin suggested that if gardaí were equipped with body-worn cameras, those photographing or recording them could be identified if needed.

Targeted unfairly

Insp Jerry Bergin, Dublin Metropolitan Region South Central, said gardaí were being targeted unfairly when they were policing protests, which are often emotive and contentious.

“There have been an increasing number of occasions where people are provocatively placing [camera phones] in the faces of members of gardaí performing their duty,” he said. “The footage is subsequently edited and placed on media networks.”

The editing was often selective and presented out of context, which was “grossly unfair” to the gardaí in the images. “It has a severe impact on their personal lives and that of their family members,” he said.

The posting of such photographs and video to intimidate Garda members is not currently a criminal offence, meaning it is not possible to apply through the courts for orders that would help in identifying people who post such content.

“You must be able to tell the court you are investigating a particular offence, and as things stand, this is not an offence, so we want to change that,” he said.

Some of the cases were further complicated by the fact that images and video recorded of Garda members in Ireland were posted online via sites in other jurisdictions.

A motion calling for a ban on posting images of Garda members online for the purpose of identifying them was withdrawn from conference because its wording was regarded as unclear.

However, AGSI’s national executive said it supported it in spirit and would make its feelings known to the Government.