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Friday 22 September 2017

'As a young garda, I was sent home for refusing to make sandwiches'

Emma Jane Hade

Emma Jane Hade

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has opened up about her experience of sexism in the early years of her career and believes the gardaí "weren't really sure what they were going to do" with women at the time.

The 53-year-old revealed she feared she was going to be sacked after refusing to make ham sandwiches when she was an "enthusiastic young recruit" .

She also said she believed her time in uniform would be short- lived.

However, these knock-backs only added to her ambition, Ms O'Sullivan said yesterday at the 'A Woman's Place is in the World' conference in Dublin Castle.

The Garda Commissioner's career began in 1981 when she was stationed in Store Street Garda Station.

She admitted: "It wasn't what I expected. I joined because I was brought up in a family where we were all treated as equals, we were all made do the same chores, we were all made work as hard as each other - that was the expectation.

"But when I arrived in Store Street - and it wasn't the fault of anybody there - we had been through a phase where women first came into the force in 1959, it was just somewhere 20 years on.

"In 20 years, the organisation and indeed society weren't really sure what they were going to do with women in a role such as policing."

She recalled an incident where she was working overtime but was called back to base "and asked would (she) go to the Kylemore shop on Talbot Street and buy some bread and ham to make sandwiches.

"I decided no. Not really a good idea if you're a recruit," she laughed. The female sergeant on duty "was very taken aback" and the "new forward-thinking Superintendent" intervened.

"So the superintendent said to me 'what's happened?' and I said nothing.

"Very quickly he handed me some money and said, 'Would you please go and buy some bread?'

"And I said, 'No sorry, I can't sir'."

Sacked

She was subsequently sent home and was surprised to learn upon her return the next day that her defiant stand had a positive impact after initially fearing she would "be sacked".

The superintendent told her he heard she had been discussing ideas with her colleagues. Within a couple of weeks, she was part of the first ever undercover unit that tackled the capital's rampant drug problem.

The mother-of-three also recalled another incident where she called to the home of a man in Fairview who had requested assistance.

But after knocking his door three times, the man subsequently told her he wanted the help of a "real policeman".

She said at the time "people weren't really sure what to do, and women had a very defined and confined role in terms of what the expectation was we could do".

Ms O'Sullivan has since had an impressive career in the force, spanning more than three decades.

She became the first ever female Garda Commissioner when she was appointed last year after the retirement of Martin Callinan. At yesterday's conference, the Garda Commissioner renewed her vow to put victims first, particularly those who have suffered from domestic violence.

She added: "We are very focused that all incidents are investigated and victims are supported."

Irish Independent

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