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what's your emergency?

Behind the scenes at a garda control centre: Who takes your 999 call?

The Dublin Metropolitan Region office handles ten times as may calls as the next busiest centre.

Garda Communications Centre. Gardai de The Dublin Garda Traffic Control Centre. Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

THERE IS ONE part of An Garda Síochana’s operations where you can be sure your conversations are recorded -emergency 999 calls. For good reason say those in the Garda Communications Centre in Dublin’s Harcourt Square.

When you make an emergency 999 call and ask for the gardaí you will be put through to one of the 23 different garda communication centres throughout the country. By far the busiest of which is the GCC for the Dublin Metropolitan Region which handles almost ten times as may calls as the next busiest centre in Cork City.

There’s a clear chain of how your call is handled when you ring 999.

First you get through to one of four emergency call centres around the country which are run by BT. There they ask you what service you are looking for and where you are located. If you ask for the gardaí you will be patched through to a call taker who may be either a garda or a civilian.

It’s their job to listen to the nature of the emergency, determine its priority and decide on what kind of garda service you require. That information is then available to a team of dispatchers, who operate out of the same room, and they look at the garda resources available and direct them to the problem.

Garda Communications Centre. Gardai de Garda call taker in Harcourt Square centre. Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

It’s a stressful job as it often involves them taking calls from people in a distressed state or who may even be in danger when the call comes through.

“It can be very tense here at times especially Friday and Saturday evenings,” explains Ann McNamara who was one of the first intake of civilian staff into the service three years ago.

When you’re experienced, a lot of the calls are straightforward but if you were to get a tiger kidnapping or maybe a bad domestic assault and you can hear it’s going on in the background, that can be a bit harrowing. Or maybe calls relating to children, things like that I find it very harrowing.

The initial call takers not only have to decide on what service is required but also to determine the urgency of a call, something that can be adjusted as more facts emerge and gardaí approach a scene.

For example, during the course of a visit to the DMR call centre, staff received reports of a fight in an area of Dublin in which up to 50 people were reported to be involved. The report was handed to the dispatch team who sent out a patrol car.

When questioned about the sending of just one car to what sounded like a large scale incident, Sergeant Claire Mulligan explained that it was usual practice to firm up information before committing more than two officers who can then report back.

She added that in a fight involving fifty people they would also expect to receive more phonecalls. Later, when the gardaí reached the scene they reported back that they couldn’t see any fight in the location reported.

By way of comparing the wide range of calls they receive, staff also received an alert from a distressed elderly person who was concerned that a man purporting to be from a phone company had called them looking for their bank details. The call taker spoke to the person and gave them some advice before sending a community officer to speak to them.

Instant playback

All emergency 999 and 112 calls that are made to the gardaí are recorded explains Supt. Denis Kettle of the communications centre.

He says there are several reasons why this is done, to allow for instant playback, to allow for disconnections and to help decipher what someone has said in often noisy environments like motorways or during the course of a row.

Kettle explains that the most important reason is so gardaí can be clear as to the location of where an incident is taking place, and that they ‘nearly always’ use instant playback to make sure an address is correct.

But he does add that what people say during 999 calls can be accessed by gardaí later during the course of their investigations:

Someone might call up and say they’ve been stabbed and they might actually say who stabbed them. That’s important for the investigation, you work with what you’ve got.

Garda Communications Centre. Garda Des Eyes everywhere. Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Inspector John Ferris adds that gardaí are sometimes required to ‘make very serious decisions on the basis of a call’ and that recording the call allows gardaí to have evidence when questioned about a decision they made later.

The Garda Traffice Control centre does not work in tandem with the communications centre at all times but is often employed to help in cases of traffic accidents or other disturbances on the streets, to assess what resources are required.

The video feeds come from Dublin City Council and the gardaí do not have direct access to the tapes from the cameras but they can control them.

Video / YouTube

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