Garda therapy service ‘could help avert stress claim fiasco’

Sarah Murphy A SUPPORT and counselling service for stressed gardai is needed to avoid legal action by officers, it was warned last night.

Dermot O’Donnell, president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), said that unless some “real intervention” is taken by the Government or some special mechanism put in place, gardai could follow the example of officers in the North who are suing the Chief Constable of the PSNI.

Some 5,000 claimants against the PSNI are taking legal action over the lack of psychological support being offered to those suffering stress in the course of duty. Horrendous

Mr O’Donnell said much stress suffered by the country’s 12,000 officers is due to bullying in the workplace. “Bullying is the greatest single source of stress for gardai in the workplace. It is horrendous and hideous in nature. Policies and procedures need to be put in place at every rank level to stop this,” he said. He noted anecdotal evidence that at least one officer has taken his life due to work stress, centred around bullying.

He referred to research carried out by Mark Reddy, a counsellor for 13 years, who since 2002 has run a voluntary support service for gardai. His research showed that 68pc of officers questioned in a survey indicated they wanted an official support service. Alongside having to deal with murders, other violence, accidents and serious personal injury, the survey found workplace bullying to be a serious issue. The survey, ‘The Need for a Confidential Support Service within An Garda Siochana’, shows that a staggering 76pc of officers questioned at several stations in Dublin do not feel they are supported in their jobs. A further 71pc said they would have difficulty sharing problems of stress with colleagues.

One question asked how officers cope with stress in their jobs. None of the respondents indicated they would seek support from senior officers, 36pc indicated they would have a few drinks, 29pc said they would talk things through with family or a partner, and 41pc said they just get on with the job and hope the problem will pass.

A further 83pc of those questioned in the survey said they felt fearful at some point when working, and some 71pc said they felt isolated from the public.

Confidence

“This in itself directly affects the mission of the Garda as a service for the public. An Garda Siochana requires a comprehensive therapeutic support service; a service that offers each member, and their families if required, the opportunity to express any concerns and difficulties they may have, in safety and in confidence,” Mr Reddy said.

A service that would bring about positive and lasting change on the issue was needed, he insisted. This would not just be individually important to gardai but would benefit the organisation as a whole, he continued. “Such a service would not be a huge strain on the Government’s financial purse.”

Mr Reddy said the issues of stress and therapeutic support are considered vital in many police forces throughout the world. In the UK there are a number of welfare associations catering for the needs of officers.

In the majority of UK forces there are internal counselling and therapeutic support services offering confidential backing to those officers in specialist roles, or anyone who needs it. The services are supported and funded by management and the British government.

In Sweden, the welfare and wellbeing of rank-and-file police officers is vital to their modernisation process.

The research highlights the need to take the matter seriously, Mr Reddy said. “Hopefully this will add an incentive to move in line with the many police forces throughout the world – and this will happen before officers here suffer enough to seek compensation like their colleagues in the North,” Mr Reddy added. “The results indicate a belief by some that members are not being respected, understood, appreciated or supported by management.”

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