Not getting the context of the Corrib gardai rape tape remarks


An editorial in Thursday's Irish Times titled "Loose talk or malice?" accepted the interpretation that the Gardai recorded on the Corrib video were simply making a private joke about rape. The editorial found that unacceptable but less serious then previous "corrupt and illegal actions by a small number of its members." The attitude of the Irish Times that all that is at issue is some off colour joking has been reflected by other commentators. Some like Kevin Myers can be dismissed as pro-Shell loons but others who have taken this line seem genuine and therefore must not have given much thought to the context these remarks were made in. The context being both the circumstances these particular women found themselves in (in the power of the Garda concerned) and the general pattern of Garda repression of protest around the Corrib project.

It is right to object to the Garda making rape jokes in itself - the bulk of the Irish Times editorial is taken up with this. Rape in Ireland is still a significantly under reported and one of the major barriers to reporting rapes is Garda attitude. Would anyone who had been raped even consider reporting it to those particular Garda after hearing that audio. It is a myth that those sort of rape jokes are commonplace, there are very few if any work or social groups where it would be acceptable to repeatedly joke about raping someone in the care of that group. Are we really to believe that teachers joke about raping pupils when they are in the staffroom? Or doctors joke about raping patients? It's rather the case that such a situation is so abnormal that the first instinct of anyone hearing such a discussion would be to report it. These are valid comparisons because both of these jobs involve having some power over others, even if that power is a magnitude less than the power a Garda has over someone they have arrested.

The reality is the five Garda were having a discussion of things they could tell women that they were going to interrogate to scare them. Not only that but the senior Garda present suggested that the threat of rape could be added to the threat of deportation put forward by one junior Gardai. This presents a far greater problem, one that many commentators including the Times editor has failed to see or possibly deliberately avoided.

These commentators refuse to see the context this discussion between the 5 Garda was taking place in - a context that becomes clear when you listen to the entire recording. It opens with the sounds of the women being arrested and with the women clearly being concerned with each other's safety because of the way the Gardai had been handling both of them during the arrest process. In the opening sequence, protester 1 is obviously distressed and repeats "I did nothing and I don’t understand why you are doing this" or words to that effect a number of times. Protester 1 is the later subject of the Garda conversation. Protester 2 is obviously concerned about what she can see and says "She’s not safe here. I’m not leaving her on her own I’m sorry she’s not safe here, look at what they are doing to her!" Then a few seconds later, she says, "no she is not safe with that man, look!". The women taken by the gardai would have been already aware that threats of sexual assault had previously been made to women campaigners in the area. Both Garda A and the Sergeant who later made the rape remarks are heard in the transcript of the arrest process (full transcript at end of this article).

What is being said as the women are being arrested and manhandled into the Garda vehicle sets the scene for the later Garda conversation. It certainly is a wake up call for anyone who thinks that conversation is somehow comparable to some smutty joke session around the office water cooler. The women are in the power of the Garda and are concerned for each others safety.

The core problem with the Irish Times editorial is the line that states of the Garda conversation that the comments were: "made in private by a number of gardaí who were going off-duty." What does "going off duty" even mean - that strange phrase seems an apologetic way to reduce the seriousness of the gardai comments? In another job would workplace sexual harassment for instance be somehow less of an issue if it happened at 16.45 on a Friday rather than 10.30 on a Monday. In any case the Gardai were clearly on-duty and were in uniform in their workplace (a Gardai vehicle) and this is evidenced by the recording.

The full conversation in the Garda vehicle goes back and forth as the Gardai discuss conducting formal Garda business. This includes filling in overtime forms for the unit and ordering equipment to be used on future protests. The Sergeant can also be heard on the phone with a superior discussing the arrests and at one point in the conversation the sergeant seems to be almost apologizing for making an arrest in this case. If this seems strange you should know that there is a long standing Garda policy is to physically attack rather than arrest campaigners, the policy was even detailed in an article in the Garda Review! Again this is an important bit of context, the garda have been actively encouraged to see the Shell to Sea campaigners as 'others' to whom the normal rules of interacting with do not apply. While they are 'joking' about raping the women the Garda are also trying to dehumanize her and the other occupants of the Rossport Solidarity Camp. The gardai are in uniform, they are in a Garda vehicle that is part of a convoy escorting prisoners that they have arrested and they are conducing Garda business as they do so. In what sense can this be described as going off-duty by the Irish Times?

The section of the conversation where the rape threat remarks are made opens up as a fairly formal discussion about how best to make one of the women give them their name and address. Listening to the audio it is clear that the Gardai are being completely serious when they say they need to get her name and that in order to do so they could threaten her with getting emigration on to her. This is such a common tactic in the Corrib situation that campaigners from other countries are warned by the Shell to Sea campaign in advance that if they are arrested they will probably be threatened with deportation. The threat has also been made by a Corrib Garda to friends of the writer. So there is no reason to treat it as part of the 'joke'

At the point in time when the Garda are having this conversation the women is their prisoner in another vehicle in the convoy. As anyone who has been arrested will tell you the process of arrest means you become someone who has no control over where you can go or what you can do: you are helpless. If you try and exercise the most minor attempt to control your situation you will be left even more helpless through being handcuffed - at the start of the audio you can hear one women being threatened with being hand cuffed. When you are handcuffed if you fall or are tripped you will smash face first into the ground as you cannot put out your hands. The arrest process allows the police to force you to go where you don't what to go (the police station and then a cell) and very often the police will deliberately seek to intimidate you by language and even physical force.

Many campaigners have heard stories of police beating and perhaps even killing people, in Ireland and elsewhere, most notably the unanswered case of Terence Wheelock. Even the British secret policeman Mark Kennedy who went undercover as a grassroots activist for years was badly beaten by a group of British police while undercover and said he was shocked by their behaviour.

Campaigners will probably also have heard of women who were sexually assaulted and even raped in police custody. This happened in the aftermath of the summit protests in Genoa and Prague as well as on countless occasions outside of Europe. Unfortuantely rape and the threat of rape is an all too often weapon of the powerful against the powerless. Campaigners know about and in some cases have experienced these things and any of the long serving Gardai at Corrib are aware of this and thus know the power such threats can wield over the community activists and protestors.

Another piece of context is that this is not a conversation between colleagues who are all at the same level. It is the Sergeant that suggests to his junior officers not once but three times that they could threaten to rape the women to force her to disclose her details. It is true that in this section of the tape he and the others are laughing, we can certainly hope that this suggestion was not intended to be taken seriously and that all present understood this. It is a hope, not a certainty and a hope that has to be tempered by the understanding that the Corrib Garda are used to being given a free hand to physically attack protesters. The video below from youtube captures a small percentage of these incidents.


The context here also includes numerous people and activists being injured, several seriously in Garda attacks over the years of protest. It includes Willie Corduff being beaten up in the dead of night inside a Shell compound, Pat O'Donnell having his fishing boat seized and sunk by masked and armed men at sea and several security from the Shell compound traveling to Bolivia to take part in an attempt to spark a coup, one of them, Michael Dwyer, being shot dead by police. Campaigners will know the people these things happened to, we have seen it happen to others in front of us, and in many cases it has happened to us. Certainly everyone who takes part in a protest in Mayo has read the accounts and probably viewed the photos and youtube footage of Garda battering Shell to Sea campaigners.

In this context having a senior Guard suggest to his juniors that threatening a women in their power with rape is about as far from a joke as you can get. Even if he and the others are laughing while doing so. Rape is never a laughing matter but what happened with this conversation is well beyond telling a joke that should not be told. The Irish Times has failed to understand this in their editorial because with almost no exception those that write and edit the paper do not understand what has been happening in Erris over the last decade. It's a long way from Dublin, almost none of them have been there and certainly not during a protest. Instead the operate in the sphere of Shell PR, senior Garda whispering in their ear and politicians assuring them that everything is fine.

The Garda rape tape is a wake up call and not the first one that to anyone listening screams everything is not fine. The moving of the five Garda involved in this particular incident to desk jobs in Castlebar solves nothing because the problem is not simply with them but with the entire policing of Shell's Corrib operation. That is why there needs to be a serious investigation of policing in Erris that is independent of the Irish state. An internal enquiry or the Ombudsman is not going to solve anything because every law related aspect of that state has been put in the service of Shell to push the Corrib project through against continuing opposition.

WORDS & PICTURE: Andrew Flood

First published in on 8th April

Transcript of arrest

Some sentences are missing from this transcript
Garda 1: give us your name, or you will be arrested
Protestor1 : let me go,
Garda 1: what is your name
Protestor1: I’m half the size of you!
Garda 1: what is your name?
Garda 2: what is your name?
Sergeant: go on arrest her, arrest the two of them
Protestor2: they just assaulted that girl in the road.... for no reason
Protestor1: please let Go, please let go
Garda 1: you’re being asked your name
Protestor1: let go of me and let go of this, I did nothing and I don’t understand why you are doing this
Garda 1: your name has been demanded under the public order act
Protestor1: I’ve done nothing let go of me and... Let go of me please!
Garda 1: release your grip, release your grip
Protestor1: let go of me!
Protestor1: I’ve done nothing! I don’t know why you are doing this!
[Camera drops to the ground]
Protestor1: let go of me, I don’t understand what is going on!
[Camera gets picked up]
Protestor2: [as Gardai start to try to arrest] I’m not leaving this girl on her own! She’s not safe here. I’m not leaving her on her own I’m sorry she’s not safe here, look at what they are doing to her!
Female Garda: you’re going to be arrested now, ok?
Protestor2: I’m not leaving her on her own, I’m not leaving her on her own
Protestor2: [as Garda tries to put handcuffs on] there’s no need, there’s no need
Garda: there is, you are resisting arrest
Protestor2: no I’m not resisting anything!
Female Garda: will you come with me then
Protestor2: I just want to make sure she is safe
Garda: she is safe
Protestor2: no she is not safe with that man, look!
Female Garda: she’ll be fine
Garda A: come on
Protestor2: she’s not safe here
Garda A: the far side is it?
(Conversation continues in Garda car)

Irish Times editorial

Read more on the Struggle against Shell's experimental Gas Pipeline

Read more on the Garda rape threat tape

An account of where the Garda rape threat tape came from with transcripts, audio and video

Short 2 minute audio
The long edited audio (25 mins)
Video of the entire unedited recording
on Vimeo, with explanatory text at the start and subtitles on some segments: 40 minutes

‘Give me your name and address or I’ll rape you’: the reality of Corrib policing from Mayo Policing on Vimeo.