The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has begun an investigation into allegations regarding garda conduct in the west of Ireland.
It has been alleged that officers joked about threatening to rape protesters at energy giant Shell’s gas project in Aughoose, Co Mayo.
"The reported conduct in question arose from the policing of a protest relating to the Corrib gas pipeline last Thursday, March 31, 2011," said a Garda Ombudsman statement.
"GSOC has not received a complaint relating to this matter, but is empowered, under the Act, to investigate matters where the Commission feels it is in the public interest to do so."
Two gardaí, one a sergeant, were allegedly taped making remarks about two women activists who refused to give their names on arrest last Thursday at the controversial Corrib scheme in Co Mayo.
A camera the women had been carrying was allegedly left recording in the back of a patrol car, capturing the conversation.
Anti-Corrib campaign group Shell to Sea said the women, who do not wish to be named, will be making a formal complaint to the Garda Ombudsman.
“This is shocking and extremely serious. It is very frightening for those of us involved in the campaign,” said protest spokeswoman Caoimhe Kerins.
“Gardaí are the people that women are supposed to trust when they need to report a rape. Gardaí are supposed to be responsible for bringing rapists to justice.”
Sinn Féin TDs had already said today that they would ask the Ombudsman to step in.
A Superintendent from outside the county has been brought in to oversee an internal investigation into the allegations.
A video camera confiscated by officers during the protest at a Shell compound at Aughoose allegedly recorded officers travelling in a patrol car separate from the arrested women.
The conversation includes joking about making a threat in the future to deport and rape one protester who had refused to give her name.
"Sergeant: Who is them two lassies, do you know the two of them?
Garda A: No, don't know the second one, the first one is Jerry Anne O’Sullivan. Blondy one.
Unidentified Garda: She was up on the tractor earlier on.
Sergeant: It'd do no harm to get the second one’s name again?
Garda A: She's some Yank. I don’t know who the f*** she is.
Unidentified Garda: Is she a Yank?
Garda A: It sounds like it, it sounds like a Yank yeah, the accent anyway.
Unidentified Garda: Sounds like a Yank or Canadian
Garda A: Well whoever, we’ll get Immigration f***ing on her.
Sergeant: She refused to give her name and address and told she would be arrested.
Garda A: ..... and deported
Sergeant: And raped. [Laughs]
Garda A: [Laughing] I wouldn’t go quite that far now yet Jim. She was living down in that crusty camp, f***’s sake, you never know what you might get.
Sergeant: Give me your name and address and I’ll rape you.
Unidentified Garda: Hold it there, give me your name and address there, I’ll rape you.
Sergeant: Or I’ll definitely rape you.
Unidentified Garda: Will you be me friend on Facebook?"
The women had been detained on a public road about half an hour after one of them had been taken down from the roof of a tractor hired as part of Shell’s preparatory work on the gas pipeline at Aughoose.
Both women were released without charge and later discovered the recording.
One of the women, in her 20s, who asked to remain anonymous, said the conversation was only discovered when they checked through all footage and found an unusually long clip.
“I think in the beginning it was just shock but because I’ve had to listen to it many times it seems to get more disturbing the more I hear it,” she said.
“It’s terrifying for campaigners but it’s much more serious for women living in the area.
“These are supposed to be the men that women go to if they experience a sexual assault or harassment. Who are they supposed to go to now?”
The women said it would not deter her from supporting local protests in Mayo and the wider Shell to Sea campaign.
“I’ve had the privilege of being around the community in north Mayo and hearing what they have been through. I don’t think there’s a more important place in Ireland for me to be then there in solidarity with them,” she said.
“They are on the frontline defending their communities and their environment.”
Corrib has been at the centre of allegations of police harassment and intimidation for years while five local men, known as the Rossport Five, spent 94 days in jail in 2005 over refusal to back down from protests over the pipeline route.
Private security firms have also been accused of beating one of the Rossport five Willie Corduff after he staged an all night sit-down protest two years ago.
The gas fields off the Mayo coast are believed to hold tens, if not hundreds, of billions of euro worth of natural gas.
Ireland’s Rape Crisis Network Ireland said senior gardaí should consider suspending the officers at the centre of the controversy.
“We are calling on the gardaí to reassure the public that the gardaí involved in the inquiry following the recording of rape ’jokes’ will not be involved in any sensitive area of duty while the investigation is under way,” a spokeswoman said.
A human rights observer from the Frontline campaign group is to be sent to Mayo to monitor policing.
Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Fein justice spokesman, said he was disgusted by the claims.
“The gardaí have a lot of questions to answer around it,” Mr O’Brien said.
“For somebody to put their trust in the gardaí and to have it betrayed in this manner, it’s not on and it’s very disturbing.”
The party’s energy and natural resources spokesman Martin Ferris said there were questions over the policing of Corrib.
“There is a wider issue regarding the entire Corrib project, where over €20m has been spent on policing this project,” Mr Ferris said.
“And there have been a lot of incidents surrounding the policing of the Corrib project and a lot more needs to be investigated.”
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said the alleged comments from the garda officers represented a new low in the policing of the protests.
“The remarks are stomach-churning and illustrate a culture within the gardaí in Rossport of absolute disregard and dehumanisation of protesters,” he said.
Mr Murphy called for the officers to be immediately removed from their positions.