Minister McDowell Shows Signs of Stress
Published Irish Independent
By Mark Reddy  

Mr Mc Dowell’s recent public outburst appeared to show the signs of a man under stress. .“Work related stress affects about one third of the workforce in the EU”. (World Health Organisation 2004) and although clearly he is a very strong, intelligent and clearly committed professional it showed that not even a man in his position is safe from the possible adverse affects that can come from carrying out a difficult and challenging career. Labour leader Pat Rabbitte referred to this as an “intolerable tantrum”, this outburst arose from a difference of opinion in regard to Garda numbers on the streets of Dublin.  

Workplace Stress has arisen as a key cause of absence from work and it is suggested that it now replaces back pain as the most commonly cited problem on medical certificates. Stress can lead to many issues such as a disruption in sleep patterns, mood swings, outbursts difficulty in making decisions and faulty decision making to name but a few.  The World Federation for Mental Health has predicted that by 2020, the primary cause of lost working time will be due to stress.

Having continued to campaign since 2002 for an internal support service made up of professional therapists to be established to support members of An Garda Siochana in dealing with such issues as workplace stress it continues to be my belief that a service like the one I am proposing will help to counter act any adverse affects caused by the very difficult and challenging duties carried out by our police force on a daily basis. I establishing a voluntary support service helping people who suffer stress, false allegation, isolation and illness in the workplace and have continued to keep the Minister and Commissioner aware of my findings and results raised as to the need for such a service to be established to support the Gardai, clearly the Ministers Job is a highly stressful one however so to is the work of the Gardai. Police work in general is considered the most challenging and dangerous professions one can work in, currently the Garda are serviced by a committed and hard working team of seven welfare officers, one sergeant and one inspector catering for the care needs of some twelve thousand officers. 

Routinely Gardaí face the very real threat of violence, trauma and crisis on a daily basis the resulting stress or more appropriately distress may cause some to suffer from stress related symptoms. Symptoms that maybe similar to the possible stress the Minister might be under at present, the constant and real threat that is faced by members of the Gardai on a daily basis can prove to be very difficult. The work of the Gardai can be perceived as times of quiet boredom through to times of crisis and trauma. It’s the changes in environment that results in the body having to adapt in order to meet these changes, these changes in the demand on the body can be immediate and automatic and the resulting stress can help the person experiencing them to perform and meet the challenges presented - or it can be negative and present in the form of distress which can make someone upset and unwell, symptoms that the Minister may well of felt on Monday night.

‘The most widespread negative effect of work on mental health is stress’ World health Organisation.
The reaction humans have to stress results in chemical changes in the body, the stimulant hormone adrenaline increases that pours into the blood stream with other hormones producing changes in our bodies designed to protect us, this can be seen as the ‘fight or flight response’ - it provides both the energy and strength needed to either stay and fight or to run away from the perceived danger, in all fairness the Minister stayed and fought his corner but he had that choice and could of walked away if he wished, this is not a choice the Gardai have when dealing with such stress inducing incidences.

Gardaí can face these reactions several times throughout each working shift; which I believe can increase the negative affects of stress. When we deal with the causes of stress we can help elevate it, in the case of members of An Garda Síochána, one way of helping is to provide a service that allows the individuals a safe and secure place to work-through their perceptions and difficulties. This in turn can help to relieve some of the problems and symptoms and also help develop the understanding, awareness and coping skills of the individual, helping them to be more readily able to deal with the everyday and real stressors of the job. This is but one aspect of supporting the members of the force the others are very clearly stated,, documented and requested at every turn and they are simply increased numbers of qualified Gardai to tackle the increasing level of crime resulting in members feeling more secure and less vulnerable and hopefully reducing the effects of distress, we need to provide them with proper working conditions and up to date equipment this will allow them to carry out their duties of protecting life and property with more effect and will allow for officers to feel appreciated by those they are employed by thus increasing self esteem and job satisfaction, we need to provide them with an internal support service like the one I am recommending so that when a traumatic experience is dealt with or when assaulted or experiencing difficulty they can seek help and support in confidence. 

It makes sense to have a healthy workforce, these seem like the basic requirements  and all will have only positive benefits for the Gardai on the Beat, the organisation as a whole and society who requires a supported, healthy and pro-active police service it will also elevate the types of symptoms suffered by Minister McDowell.


I would hope that this could be considered by the Minister when he next reviews how best to support the Gardai, his outburst was reported to be a meltdown and a tantrum and all of which was visible to all and arose from a disagreement of words and numbers, how must it be to be in the centre of a riot or to attend a scene of a violent murder, rape or accident the likes of which the committed member of An Garda Siochana deal with professionally everyday. 

Hopefully the lesson can now be learned before others have to continue to experience such difficulties as a result of doing their jobs.