The gardaí’s comments related to two young women they arrested last Thursday after they staged a protest over Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline at Aughoose, Co Mayo.
The state’s independent police watchdog, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), has set up a special investigation, known as a public interest inquiry, into the matter.
One of the two women, who is from Dublin, said she is due to meet officers from GSOC tomorrow.
After they were arrested, the women were taken in a patrol car to Belmullet Garda station.
Up to five other gardaí followed in a second car and had a conversation among themselves. Unknown to them, a digital recorder they had confiscated from the Dublin woman was still recording as they drove back to the station.
At least three of the gardaí, including a sergeant, were laughing and joking at a fictional scenario of raping the women after they had refused to identify themselves.
Their comments emerged after the women were handed back the recorder on release.
Fiona Neary of the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland described the rape ‘jokes’ as “very serious” and said victims of sexual violence must be able to trust gardaí.
They said the gardaí concerned should to be removed from any “sensitive area” of Garda duties pending an investigation.
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.”
She said their experience of An Garda Síochána in general “has been very good over the years”. But she added: “We condemn any comments of the nature we have heard were allegedly made about the two young students in Mayo. Comments of this nature are totally unacceptable in any context but are much more serious when made by people in authority and who are supposed to be the guardians of our society.”
Maeve Lewis of One in Four said: “The gardaí have spent years trying to change the culture relating to sexual violence in the force, and nowadays most victims of sexual crime have a positive experience when reporting to the gardaí. However, the terrifying comments made [on] the arrested women make us question how much that culture has really changed, and will certainly undermine the confidence of victims in reporting crime to the gardaí.”
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.”
Mark Kelly of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said he hoped the GSOC investigation would examine public order training received by those policing the Corrib gas pipeline dispute.
Kieran Fitzgerald of GSOC said a public interest inquiry was necessary “because the reported conduct of the gardaí is of such a nature as to warrant an investigation, because it alleges some serious remarks and some serious conduct which, if proven, would reflect badly on society in general and An Garda Síochána in particular”.