Loose talk or malice?

 

REMARKS CAUGHT on tape in a Garda car, following the arrest of two female protesters at the Corrib gas field development near Belmullet, Co Mayo, last week are not – as PJ Stone of the Garda Representative Association admitted – something you make excuses about or condone. The seriousness of the matter is emphasised by the fact that two separate investigations are under way. In addition, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has reassured the public, and particularly women, that any investigation of sexual crimes by members of the force will be conducted with sensitivity and compassion.

The Garda Síochána has gone through many tough years and has been subjected to public criticism because of corrupt and illegal actions by a small number of its members. This incident, while deeply regrettable, is in a different category. Had the comments about rape and deportation been made in the presence of the women protesters, it may have amounted to threatening, criminal behaviour. But they were made in private by a number of gardaí who were going off-duty following a high-profile public demonstration.

Worryingly, however, sentiments expressed under the cloak of privacy can speak volumes about underlying attitudes and perspectives precisely because the speaker believes they will not reach a wider audience. And, unfortunately, it is not difficult to envisage other everyday scenarios where similar mindsets might be evident.

Perspective is required, however. It would be wrong to suggest that women should not have confidence in the Garda because of these events. A great deal of effort and training has gone into ensuring that members of the force will respond with sympathy and understanding to any complaint of sexual assault. Ten years ago, a survey found that a majority of young gardaí believed there were too few arrests and convictions to protect women against violence. Some of those recruits are now entering middle management and their views are unlikely to have changed. If successful prosecutions do not always follow Garda investigations, critics should look also to the problems associated with gathering evidence, to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and to public attitudes and the courts.

The gross, sexist attitudes revealed by the tape recording are unacceptable. Society rightly expects higher standards of the Garda – in public and in private – because of their position and the powers they have been given to uphold the law.