Anyone who has listened to the tape released by the Shell to Sea group apparently showing gardai joking about raping female protesters at the site of the controversial gas pipeline in Co Mayo can only despair.
After a series of damaging controversies and scandals -- Donegal, Abbeylara and the Dean Lyons affair to name but a few -- the Irish public were assured that the Garda had cleaned up its act. We had the Garda Ombudsman, the Garda Inspectorate and a new complaints procedure, all of which were designed to restore battered public confidence in our police force.
And now this. If the Mayo tape is genuine, and no one seems to be suggesting that it isn't, then it is clear that, despite all of the reforms of recent years, there remains within the Garda an unreconstructed hard core who seem to be impervious to changing attitudes.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the attitudes demonstrated by the Mayo tape are positively Neanderthal and have no place in a modern police force. Unfortunately, it would appear that at least some gardai have not moved with the times.
What is more disturbing has been the reaction of garda management and trade unions to the publication of the Mayo tape. The silence of the two main garda unions, the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on the affair speaks volumes.
Meanwhile, the Garda Commissioner has appointed a senior officer from outside Mayo to investigate the contents of the tape. Which, under the circumstances, was the absolute minimum that he could be seen to be doing. However, all of the gardai involved remain on duty.
This combination of silence from the garda trade unions and the minimalist response of the commissioner leaves one with the impression of a police force circling the wagons rather than being determined to unearth the truth.
In this day and age that's simply not good enough. The public deserve a modern police service; God knows they pay for one, with this year's garda budget set to exceed €1.53bn.
If public confidence in the Garda is to be restored then it is vital that the tape is thoroughly investigated. One of the few encouraging developments of the past few days is the fact that the Garda Ombudsman immediately initiated its own parallel investigation rather than waiting to receive a complaint on the matter from a member of the public. This ensures that there will be an independent investigation.
Rape must never, ever, be a joking matter.