The cultural challenge within

Who would want to be a Garda?

By Mark Reddy Published Garda Review 03/12/2007

The work of the Gardaí is underpinned by the relationship it has with the public for which it serves. This proud organisation has undergone dramatic changes; with the increase in population, violent crime and meeting the changing needs of a new demographic of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. It has also faced its share of knock backs and bad publicity that would destroy most services and yet continues to meet every challenge head on; to provide a service that is greatly appreciated and respected by the majority.

As with any organisation there are always two sides, the public and the private. When both are in harmony most problems can be dealt with through open communication. When there is conflict between the public and private face of any service, sooner or later the private issues will come to ahead. An inevitable fact.

If An Garda Síochána relies on effective communication among all staff. If trust, respect, understanding and appreciation at every level is absent then issues will develop that may well impact on the public face of the organisation; and the service it is designed to provide.

A level of disharmony within the organisation has seeped through into the public domain in many different episodes. These issues have brought it home to the public that there is conflict within the force.

Negative publicity and internal disputes have contributed to a sense that An Garda Síochána is not infallible or immune from either doing wrong or being wronged. Obviously, for An Garda Síochána to be truly effective it needs to be seen as professional, moral, fair, unbiased and impartial public servants at all times.

For any new recruit this is a very tall order to achieve in the current climate. Everything action is magnified, scrutinized and monitored. There are many who eagerly wait for the next potential scandal or internal strife within the force to exploit this to their benefit.

So you still think that you want to be a Garda? Within the organisation you there are daily challenges with traumatic and stress-filled situations requiring anyone to be at their very best. As in almost any workplace there are those who have lost track of the moral code and authority for which they serve.

The negative cultural aspects of the private face of the service challenge the most hardy and moral of individuals. Firstly, anyone feeling stressed as a result of carrying out their duties find it difficult, if not impossible, to be able to say this without fear of being considered ‘weak’.

Research has shown that 76% of Gardaí questioned said they did not feel supported in their jobs and 71% said they found it difficult to tell their colleagues that they found the job stressful at times.

Most members who are gay, lesbian or bisexual find it impossible to share this aspect of their life for fear of recrimination, isolation and discrimination. Policing is considered a ‘masculine’ profession. Research has also shown it is one that most dislikes homosexuals. A recent study into sexual minorities within An Garda Síochána showed that there was a high level of sexually derogatory terms and comments used frequently from within the private world of the service and also used against the public.

Sadly, there are members of the force who don’t believe themselves to be doing wrong by taking part in, and not challenging, those who feel it ok to belittle someone as a result of their sexuality. Or consider those who value their mental health as being weak. Is this something you can challenge?

We are all unique in our differences. As a member of this service it requires you to exemplify to maintain your professionalism when those about you lose theirs. Should it make a difference to you when carrying out your duties what your colleague’s background is, as long as they can do the job?

Irish Society is changing; we are more qualified than ever before. We are open-minded to difference and progressive in our understanding and acceptance of others, An Garda Síochána is increasingly comprised of a cross section of this community, and those responsible for passing on the baton to this new breed of Gardaí have a moral responsibility to challenge and weed out those that will represent the service in a negative light. If you turn your head away and ignore those who discriminate against someone who may need to seek support or someone of a different gender, sexuality or ethnic background to yourself then sadly you are wrong and responsibility will be yours for the slow decline in public confidence and staff moral of the service.

Equality is easily achieved as long as everyone understands and appreciates its importance, not one member of the force is perfect and therefore is open to having difficulties. The choice is yours. GR