Gardaí 'harassed and bullied' after photos posted online, sergeant claims

National Union of Journalists says banning photos of gardaí could have 'grave implications' for freedom of expression

Gardaí are calling for a law banning the publication of images on any media without permission Stock Image

Cathal McMahon and Tom Brady

Gardaí say they have been subjected to bullying and harassment after members of the public have taken their photos and posted them online.

A controversial motion, due to be discussed at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) conference on Tuesday, calls for a law to be introduced banning photos of gardaí from being posted on any form of media without permission.

The motion has been criticised by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) who say it “could have grave implications for the right to freedom of expression”.

However Sgt Pat Baldwin from Co Kilkenny said something needs to be done to protect members of An Garda Síochána from the online bullying.

He said that he has been approached by members over the last couple of months complaining about social media where they have been identified and details of where they live have been posted online.

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

“On one occasion one of their kids was pinpointed and for another member it was mentioned where he trains kids about his job and something that was posted on social media about him.”

Sgt Baldwin said it seems to be a “certain level of person” who targets members.

He explained: “They have no specific complaint - they just want to identify that member and harass them.

“There are laws in relation to harassment but that takes a considerable amount of time to investigate and it’s too late because it's on social media.”

Sgt Baldwin claimed that the harassment snowballs online.

“People of the same mind start liking it and making other comments.

“It's very devastating to the member and their families - particularly families.”

Some AGSI members now want Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to make it a criminal offence to post photos and personal details about gardaí online.

The motion has been criticised by the NUJ.

Acting General Secretary Séamus Dooley wrote to his AGSI counterpart John Jacob on Monday afternoon.

In his letter Mr Dooley said the proposal from the Dublin Metropolitan Region, West Division “could have grave implications for the right to freedom of expression.”

He added: “It is disturbing that any section would contemplate banning the taking of photographs or recording of public events or assemblies.

“The motion, as I understand it, could also criminalise the taking of photographs of State occasions and the photographing of public buildings such as  Leinster House, for example. It is in all likelihood incapable of implementation but the ideology behind the proposal raises serious concerns.”

He continued: “The proposal that photographing members of the force on duty should be made a criminal offence would, in particular, have significant implications for working journalists. Police powers should be exercised in public with maximum transparency. The right to free assembly is  a cornerstone of a democracy and is cherished in this country.”