Call for mandatory counselling for officers suffering trauma

Gardaí are left traumatised from attending fatal traffic accidents, stabbings and shootings and should be required to attend counselling, mid-ranking gardaí have recommended to Garda HQ.

The annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors heard that gardaí are often in shock after attending “horrendous scenes” and can get flashbacks.

Sergeant Fergus O’Brien from Wicklow division said he had attended a Mass for deceased Garda members two years ago.

“I think that somewhere along the line the trauma that can be transferred to members of An Garda Síochána when they go to serious incidents like a fatal traffic accident, where maybe somebody is deceased in the passenger seat of the car,” he said. “When you look into that car at that moment in time you see the stillness of death there.”

Sgt O’Brien, who has 37 years’ experience in the force, said he is still affected by what he has experienced.

“Going to the scene of a murder — somebody stabbed to death, somebody shot or some horrific scenes over the years — even someone like myself, who’s a long time in the guards, carries that baggage, that trauma is inside you.”

He spoke in favour of a motion for counselling to be mandatory to members after a traumatic incident.

“We as AGSI members would say it’s imperative and it should be mandatory — it should not be optional that a person is referred for counselling and a psychologist,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be an in-depth study of a person’s psychology, it’s just to make sure that they know there’s a contact there. We know from speaking to people and dealing with people as representatives how traumatised people can be.

“I’ve been with grown men who have cried when you discuss the thing with them and you don’t realise it’s inside you until somebody gets in there and gets it out.”

Sgt O’Brien said he remembered clearly one of the first tragedies he experienced. “When I was a young police officer, I went to a horrific fatal traffic accident. It was a terrible scene where a young girl was dead and a pool of blood around her. And, obviously, you’re shocked. You can get flashbacks as well, these are features of it.

“A senior and an older guard there, he said ‘Fergus you’ve got to put that out of your mind, you’ve got to stand over, find out who that person is and you’ll be going down to notify their family’.”

He welcomed comments from the Garda Commissioner at the conference that she took this issue seriously and he said that progress had been made.

The conference also heard claims from a delegate that bullying was “endemic” in the force. Sergeant Liam Corcoran said there was a “policy of harassment” within the organisation, one he had experienced since he joined some 33 years ago.

The Tipperary delegate works as an advocate to assist, guide and counsel members “who suffer harassment and bullying and feel they’re being trod upon essentially by persons or by the organisation”.

On the scale of bullying in the force, he said: “It’s just endemic, because our way of dealing with the processes of dealing with it in the gardaí — there is a policy of harassment and bullying that we deal with.”

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