A Garda investigation is underway to identify members of the force who wrote “malicious” and harassing WhatsApp messages about their female colleagues which went viral in Garda circles.
In one case, a senior Garda police officer was attacked by messages claiming she had been involved in a drink-drive incident, even though no such crime had occurred.
In other cases, news reports claimed that named Garda members were “scabbreakers” because they had worked overtime on a day when the Garda rank and file had decided to consider voluntary overtime as part of a dispute over the next Garda rosters to withdraw some form of industrial action.
The investigation is being carried out by the Garda Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Garda Assistant Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon told a police board meeting on Thursday that some of the messages circulating in recent weeks may have been generated and shared on Garda mobile phones.
Authority chairman Bob Collins noted that some of the messages were directed at a particular female Garda member. He said the “speed and apparent recklessness with which the messages spread” resulted in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris sending a circular to all Garda members calling on those responsible to stop and calling on those targeted to reach out and ask for support.”
Mr Collins, the former director general of RTÉ, said the respect and trust on which policing should be based was missing in the debacle. He wondered “where the (Garda) code of ethics” and the human rights obligations of all Garda members to “defend the rights” of others.
Ms McMahon said the ongoing investigation was still a “work in progress”, adding it was too early to determine how many members of the force were involved. A crucial aspect of the investigation was to determine the origin of the messages and the identity of those who ensured they continued to be distributed.
Police Department member Elaine Byrne described the messages spread as “offensive, false, inappropriate, malicious.”
She said it amounted to “bullying behavior.”
Speaking about the targeting of female Garda members, Ms Byrne also said that in the last decade only eight members of the police force had made a formal complaint of sexual harassment, adding that this figure was not “realistic”.
Ms McMahon agreed that such a low number of sexual harassment complaints over a decade was unrealistic, adding: “Any form of harassment has no place in the Garda organisation.” Senior officers must support those who complain come forward to file complaints and help create an atmosphere that is “conducive” to speaking out, she said.
Ms Byrne said a number of gardaí had recently appeared in court on serious charges including crimes against women or children. She added one immediately resigned from the Garda after pleading guilty to the charge. She asked why he was allowed to resign since his future resume would look very different than a dismissal based on the crimes.
Assistant Commissioner Shawna Coxon said the Garda force had no legal authority to reject a member’s resignation when it was submitted.
Mr Collins said the fact that Garda members accused of serious crimes could simply resign would be seen by many as a “luxury”.
Separately, it also emerged at the hearing that a number of people who had applied to join the Garda force had failed pre-employment drug tests and were therefore not accepted into training. Testing was conducted for the first time last month and an unspecified number of positive tests were returned.