Monday 24 June 2019

Garda's son abused on football pitch after father identified online

Stock picture
Stock picture

Cathal McMahon

The son of a garda was approached on a football pitch and singled out for abuse after his father was identified on social media.

A conference heard that gardai wanted to tackle people who are using their photographs as part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against gardai and their families, including children.

Recalling a recent case Sergeant Pat Baldwin said one member had been identified online after attending a protest. This officer's son was subsequently approached on a football field by a person who made abusive remarks about the garda.

"We had a member come to us and his child was approached on a football field after the father was identified on social media," he said. "The child was approached by a particular person and told ’your father is a scumbag because he policed a protest’."

Speaking at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) Conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, Sgt Baldwin said gardai expected to be photographed when carrying out their duties.

But they did not expect that images would be published, posted and downloaded for the sole purpose of identifying them, where they lived and members of their families.

He said it was totally unacceptable that people involved in campaigns or in criminal activity would deliberately obtain images of gardai to intimidate their families.

The conference heard there is currently no regulation around images being recorded on a mobile phone and shared on social media.

Delegate Jerry Bergin from Dublin south central division said: "Everybody is now a reporter and social commentator. Most people do so without any nefarious intent.

“However, there have been an increasing number of occasions where people are provocatively placing media devices in the faces of members of An Garda Siochana who are performing their duty. The footage is subsequently edited and placed on media networks. There is substantial misrepresentation. It’s grossly unfair and leads to injustice.”

While the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) was concerned the motion could impinge on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, he said his proposal was not aimed at the media.

Mr Bergin said that while the mainstream media was governed by legislation and was obliged to bring balance to their coverage of events there were no such regulations for people seeking to film or photograph gardai for the purposes of identifying them and intimidating them.

Delegate Tom McIntyre, who is based in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, said the material placed online “ranges from photos of our members while they are carrying out their duties to character assassination and slanderous comments”.

He added: “More sinister is the willingness to attack our families.”

He said that this online bullying compromises gardaí when they are asked to address schoolchildren about online bullying.

“How can we face our children and give them advice on cyber bullying when they surf the internet and see that we are the biggest victims?"

He said: “There is a school of thought that our training prepares us to take abuse and therefore there is no necessity to punish those who engage in abusive behaviour against us. The school of thought must change and we must ensure it changes.”

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