North Dublin gardaí ‘do not have capacity to investigate domestic abuse’

Unit focused on domestic violence forced to prioritise child sex abuse cases, forum told

A specialist unit set up to deal with domestic violence and sexual offending in north Dublin last year is not dealing with a single domestic violence case, a Garda conference has heard.

Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs) have been set up in all Garda divisions in recent years to tackle domestic violence and sexual offending.

In Dublin Metropolitan Region North, however, the DPSU is not investigating a single domestic violence case due to its workload, Det Insp Brian Downey told the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi). "The answer is nil. Absolutely none," he said.

This is because DPSUs are forced to concentrate on the hundreds of child sexual abuse cases on their desks, he said.

Gardaí in the Dublin Metropolitan Region North DPSU "simply do not have the capacity to investigate domestic abuse or respond to domestic abuse", said Det Insp Downey.

Delegates from other divisions agreed this was a widespread problem. The matter is being reviewed by the Garda Inspectorate.

Det Insp Downey told Deputy Commissioner Shawna Coxon on Tuesday evening that when the DPSU was set up over a year ago it inherited all the child sexual abuse investigations which were being carried out by the Child Protection Unit.

It also investigates most incoming rape cases, which, along with child abuse investigations, take priority over domestic violence cases. This means the only domestic violence case that can be taken on is one which involves a rape in a domestic setting, said Det Insp Downey.

There are more than 300 sexual abuse cases on the unit’s desk.

The deputy commissioner said more than 300 gardaí are working in protective service units countrywide. She responded to Det Insp Downey that the issue would have to be examined if it is not working.

Beards

Separately, the conference heard a call for the policy that allows gardaí wear beards to be withdrawn.

The Garda Uniform Policy was updated in July 2021 by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to allow the growing of beards by members.

Since then many members have opted to grow facial hair, a trend which has caused some consternation in the upper ranks.

Agsi, which represents 2,500 members who are responsible for supervision within the force, is unhappy it was not consulted before the policy was changed.

General secretary Antoinette Cunningham said the organisation was not against beards but that Agsi members should have been given the opportunity to contribute its input beforehand.

“They are supervisors and they are responsible for how members present themselves on duty. So we would have liked to have made a submission. That doesn’t mean that we’re against the wearing of beards, but we would have liked the opportunity to have a discussion on it at the very least.”

Speaking to reporters at the association’s annual conference in Kerry on Tuesday, Ms Cunningham said “the introduction of a policy without seeking the viewpoint of the staff associations is not a very wise thing to do”.

She said the uniform policy change should be withdrawn so that Agsi can make a submission to management on the matter.

Last month, a Garda inspector based in Dublin took his staff to task for wearing patchy beards which he compared to “a badly watered lawn in a heatwave”.

In a memo to gardaí he said the decision to grow a beard should not be interpreted by gardaí “as an excuse to take a break from shaving”.

“In short, members should decide whether they want a beard or not (or whether their partners will allow them to have one or not) and commit to one look or the other,” he said.