Assaults on gardaí seen as ‘acceptable hazard’, delegates told

Attacks not recorded unless member forced to take three days off work to recover

GRA president Ciarán O’Neill: “Our management don’t even class us as victims.” Photograph: Conor Ó Mearáin

GRA president Ciarán O’Neill: “Our management don’t even class us as victims.” Photograph: Conor Ó Mearáin

 

There is a culture in the Garda of accepting assaults on its members as an occupational hazard, with most attacks not even counted in official data, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said.

It wants gardaí who suffer violent attacks on duty to be afforded the same rights under the criminal justice system as members of the public who are assaulted.

Not only should all attacks lead to criminal investigations, it said, but Garda victims should be kept up to date with the progress of those inquiries, as members of the public are under the force’s victims’ charter.

At present, attacks on members are not being recorded by Garda Headquarters – at Phoenix Park, Dublin – unless the member involved is forced to take three days or more off work to recover.

“Our management don’t even class us as victims,” GRA president Ciarán O’Neill said at the opening of the association’s annual conference in Salthill, Co Galway.

Typical incident

“It is part of the job to use force when necessary to bring people to justice. But that doesn’t mean there should be a carte blanche allowance for people to assault gardaí.”

He cited an attack on a male garda and his female colleague in Ballymun, north Dublin, on Sunday morning as typical of many such incidents.

“The male member got bitten, got spat at, got kicked at, got his eyes gouged,” he said of the assault on the garda when he was responding to a call-out to a domestic incident. “He still remained on in work, so he’s not in the statistics. But he was assaulted and that shouldn’t be happening to anybody when they’re going to work.”

Mr O’Neill said that attack may or may not be investigated as a criminal offence, but there was no consistency with the approach. It was not until statistics are properly compiled that the frequency and nature of the violence meted out on gardaí will become clear.

While Garda headquarters claimed there had been 631 Garda members injured on duty in 2015 and 5,417 injuries since 2006, the GRA was not clear how many of those were as a result of an assault.

Community service

It added that one of its members had his nose broken in an assault on Christmas Day, yet a sanction of community service was imposed on the attacker by the courts.

The association wants mandatory jail terms, perhaps of one year, for anyone who attacks a Garda or any other emergency worker.

“We know working on the street that members do get assaulted every day and it’s becoming much more commonplace,” Mr O’Neill said. “It’s an acceptable hazard, that’s what our management seem to see it as.

“Where an assault happens to a member of An Garda Síochána, it should be investigated fully by an independent person of a higher rank. We are looking to protect our members. This is what this conference is about this year – the safety and protection of our members.”

Garda members should also be provided as a matter of course with suitable equipment to deal with violent offenders, such as Taser stun guns.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald are due to address GRA delegates this afternoon.