The Garda needs to be more open and interactive with the media to ensure that reliable information about policing reaches the public, a Garda conference has heard.
On Tuesday, Sgt Tony Quinn told delegates at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) event that he had been urged to take the "mushroom approach" to dealing with the media.
“Keep them in the dark and feed them plenty of manure,” he explained.
AGSI delegates have gathered at the Brehon Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry, for the conference, which is to be addressed by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan on Tuesday.
Mr Quinn told the conference that the banning of most Garda members from speaking with the media was counterproductive.
He said it was leading to a poor grade of information emerging from unnamed sources.
“Wouldn’t it be preferable if the source was named and [Garda members were] trained in media relations,” he said.
He said the only training he had had in dealing with the media was a short briefing from the Garda Press Office when he was training for a promotion almost 10 years ago.
“All I took from that was to give the media the mushroom treatment; keep them in the dark and feed them plenty of manure. It is not good enough.”
He said Garda members were not allowed to speak to the media, unless given express permission.
The garda said that while officers at the rank of superintendent and higher are given more leeway in dealing with the press, most information emerges “off the record”.
Other delegates at the conference said other police forces appeared to release much more information than the Garda and that this needed to be reviewed so more Garda successes could be publicised.
The association's vice-president, Antoinette Cunningham, said earlier on Tuesday that members were "bitterly disappointed" that Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald was not going to attend their annual conference.
“When the conference ended yesterday evening there was a real feeling of negativity.
“Most people were incredulous that the Minister for Justice could not find one hour over the three days,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
“There were several attempts to reschedule. We would have fitted in the Minister on any given day.
“People are bitterly disappointed that the person in charge of justice in this country couldn’t find it in her schedule to come here for one hour.”
The recent crises of inflated breath test data and wrongful road traffic convictions are key topics for the conference.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is due to address the conference on Tuesday.
“We’re looking forward to the interaction and to hear how she’s going to steer us through this crisis,” said Ms Cunningham.
It is expected the Garda Commissioner will address comments she made at the Oireachtas justice committee about incompetence and deception by gardaí in the recent controversies.
Finger of blame
The AGSI vice-president said: “We will be stating today that the finger [of blame] should not be pointed in any direction, up, down, sideways, until all examinations are completed.
“And only when there is factual evidence of how this happened should we then start to analyse and think how we are going to deal with that.”
In relation to complaints about a lack of Garda resources, Ms Cunningham said: “It’s been absolutely highlighted by the AGSI over the years, especially over the past five years – the absolute serious lack of supervisory sergeants.
“Not only did we highlight that, but the Garda inspectorate stated it in 2013.
“They said it again in 2015 and now we’re at 2017 and there still hasn’t been an improvement.
“This is the problem when you talk about the crisis of confidence in the force – I don’t they’re ever linked to one singular incident.
“You have to look at the whole force in its entirety and see what’s going on over the last number of years, see what’s leading to demotivation, demoralisation and anger amongst membership.
“The recent controversies are a reflection of some of the internal anger and frustration that’s been going on internally for the last number of years.
“Sometimes you can say things over and over again but you’re not sure if anyone is listening to you.”
Responding to a debate at the AGSI conference, in which a motion seeking more media training for gardaí was carried, the Garda said more than 200 members had recently undergone such training.
It said that this group included 24 inspectors and the training was designed so that more Garda members could speak on the record to the media.
“In addition, media training is provided as a module in the Inspectors’ Development Course. This training includes mock interviews,” the Garda said.
“At all times in this training, the emphasis is on dealing with the media in an open and honest way, while ensuring prosecutions and investigations are protected.
“We are currently planning to put in place regional press officers who will then identify what other personnel at all ranks require further media training.”