The two women — from Dublin and North America — were arrested by gardaí last Thursday after staging a protest at Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline development at Aughoose, Co Mayo.
A conversation by up to five gardaí, including a sergeant, as they drove back to Belmullet Garda Station, was captured on a digital recorder taken from the Dublin woman. At least three were laughing and joking at a fictional scenario of raping the women.
The women were in a separate car, but made the discovery when given back the recorder on release.
The recording has led to an outcry from groups including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
The Dublin woman, who did not wish to be identified, told the Irish Examiner she was seeking legal advice and was due to meet the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) tomorrow.
The GSOC said it was setting up a “public interest” inquiry because of the serious nature of the reported remarks and conduct of the gardaí. An internal Garda investigation is under way.
The woman, aged in her 20s, said: “I’m still in shock. Even though it happened a few days ago now, it’s hard enough to talk about it.
“It’s still unbelievable, them saying ‘give me your name and address or I’ll rape you, I’ll definitely rape you’. I’m playing it over and over in my mind.”
She said this behaviour was terrifying for women protesters, particularly those living in the community.
“They are the men women are supposed to go to if they are victims of rape.”
Garda sources said the gardaí involved were “devastated” and intended “no malice” in what was a private conversation. They have been interviewed by the Garda investigation. At least some of them could face disciplinary procedures for inappropriate behaviour.
Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said: “Making suggestive comments about rape and sexual assault is not funny whatever the situation or circumstances.”
Susan McKay of the National Women’s Council of Ireland said: “Joking about raping women is never funny and the Garda Commissioner must act immediately to show that the appalling attitudes displayed by members of the force are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. These officers displayed levels of sexism and stupidity that are extremely worrying in a 21st-century police force.”
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan stressed the importance of combining professionalism with sensitivity and compassion in investigating sexual crimes.
“We have stated clearly in the past and I want to say again this evening that a positive and compassionate attitude from members of An Garda Síochána is vital. That is our clear policy. That is the message delivered in our training. That is what we expect of gardaí.”