The mental and physical health of senior Garda officers was being damaged by harassment, including of their partners, and also by personnel within the Garda organisation making false and vexatious complaints, the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) has said.
The AGS raised the issues with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at its annual delegate conference in Naas, Co Kildare, on Wednesday. It also says complaints made through the protected disclosure system within the Garda force often took years to resolve, despite most of the allegations never being substantiated.
Supt Declan McCarthy of the AGS said 90 per cent of his members replied to an independent survey his association had commissioned about their working conditions and the pressures they were under, and the results were concerning.
“In that survey, 48 per cent of the respondents identified that they had been subject to stress arising from these malicious and vexatious complaints,” he said.
“Members’ wives’ cars have also been videoed, members’ wives’ cars had been photographed and members themselves had been photographed. This sort of ongoing harassment, almost, is impacting on both the physical and mental health of members.
“We’ve had a number of recorded incidents where members’ spouses in particular have been added to the mix, if you like; their vehicles have been identified publicly and posted on social media. [Home] addresses have been posted on social media.”
Supt McCarthy said it was not possible to attribute these incidents to any one sector of society or even to suggest they arose from smaller or larger policing incidents. Instead, it was “across the board” and “you couldn’t say there’s one particular group targeting us”.
On the issue of vexatious complaints made against senior officers, Supt McCarthy said when they were “admitted as protected disclosures... it lends much more credibility to the particular allegations”. This was a “matter of huge concern” to superintendents as they could be investigated criminally and through the internal Garda disciplinary process.
“An awful lot of the time, the vast majority of the time, they are found to be completely unfounded and [un]substantiated,” he said.
He said his members were also concerned that Garda recruitment was not stable enough. They believed the force needed to be increased to 15,000 members, as per the current Government target, and then be sustained at that level.
Recruitment was stopped and the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, was closed in early 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The recruitment of 800 gardaí in 2022 was promised in last year’s budget. However, only 25 gardaí have been taken into the Garda College so far this year, with a further 75 due to enter the college in November. While 360 new gardaí graduated this year, they should have done so in 2021 but their graduation was delayed due to Covid-19.
Ms McEntee, who addressed the superintendents on Wednesday morning, said while recruitment into the Garda had been impacted by Covid-19, some 1,000 new recruits would enter the Garda College next year.
This would recommence the process of increasing the number of sworn Garda members to 15,000, which has been a long-term target. Once that level of personnel is reached, the Government is open to increasing it further, especially as the Republic’s population grows and becomes more diverse and policing becomes more specialised.
On the claim by AGS that the protected disclosure process was being abused by those making vexatious complaints, Ms McEntee said people working within the Garda organisation “has a right” to make a protected disclosure “in a confidential way”.
However, that did not mean the investigation of those allegations should not be “rigorous” and that “every person be questioned and the facts are understood as quickly as possible”.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the AGS was “making a very valid point” in raising the recording of gardaí and sharing of videos online, which he said was an issue for Garda members of all ranks. Gardaí had acted against those who had sought to intimidate gardaí or made threats on social media and had requested social media companies remove some content.
While some of the content was “disgraceful”, in the “social media age” videos could be viewed a large number of times and be shared repeatedly before action could be taken. However, anyone with a public-facing role, such as the Garda, was now always at risk of being targeted with video recording.
On the issue of the protected disclosure process being abused, Mr Harris said allegations that were made had to pass “gateways” before it could be considered a protected disclosure. Furthermore, when anonymous allegations about Garda members were made, outside the protected disclosure process, they had to be investigated “worthy” of such action.