Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mid-ranking gardaí are being harassed by online trolls who are circulating images of their family home, their partners, and even their children on social media, writes Cormac O’Keeffe.

The president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Antoinette Cunningham, said this is causing “considerable stress, anxiety, and anger” among family members.

In response to concerns expressed by the National Union of Journalists at a Garda motion in this area, Ms Cunningham said they are not talking about the media photographing members on “operational duties”.

Speaking at the AGSI annual conference in Killarney, she said she was referring to the “private life” of members and their health and safety by having details of their home and family recorded and spread online.

“We’ve had situations recently where the photographs, names, addresses, and families of members of the gardaí have appeared on social media outlets.

“It has caused considerable stress, anxiety, and anger among their families.”

Sergeant Pat Baldwin of Kilkenny Garda Station said a number of members had contacted him in recent months about people on social media identifying where they live and their family.

“Some members of their family have suffered horrendous harassment and continuous and sustained, not short of bullying on social media because of their job,” he said.

Sgt Baldwin said the people doing this do not have a specific complaint, but just want to identify the member and harass them.

He said there were laws on harassment but said it took a considerable amount of time to investigate — and that it is “too late” then as it’s social media.

“We want the Minister to consider all options in relation to a criminal offence where members are being identified, their locations, and their homes and families as a specific offence for this type of behaviour,” he said.

The NUJ had earlier expressed concern at a motion which it feared would impinge on the work of journalists given it covers taking photographs of gardaí on duty.

Séamus Dooley, acting general secretary, said the proposal as worded “could have grave implications for the right to freedom of expression”.

Ms Cunningham said this was not the intention: “When gardaí are carrying out the course of their duty and whatever that duty is, they have to be open, accountable, transparent, and open to be recorded.”

However, she said: “If the family of a guard is put at risk then I think that is invading into the private life of a member of An Garda Síochána. It’s incumbent on us, as the people who represent them, to ensure their safety and the safety of their families.”

Ms Cunningham added: “A guard carrying out his duties is one thing, but a private family life or family member being named on social media because they are connected to someone who’s doing their lawful duty then we have to have discussions around that.”

She said: “If you look back at recent protests there was recordings made and I think operationally and in the line of duty I don’t think An Garda Síochána can have a problem with that — that is openness, transparency.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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