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'Gardaí are not treated as victims': Man avoids jail after kicking garda who was unconscious on ground

The GRA says there is no comparable occupation where employees are likely to suffer such a debilitating range of injuries while doing their normal duties.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/

THE BODY REPRESENTING rank-and-file gardaí has said its members are not afforded the status of victims by Ireland’s legislature when it comes to assaults in the line of duty.

John O’Keeffe, director of communications for the Garda Representative Association (GRA), told that prison sentences for assaults on gardaí are not handed down of sufficient length to deter this type of criminal violence.

The comments follow a sentencing yesterday in which a man who kicked a garda as she lay unconscious on the ground avoided jail. Leon Kavanagh was 17 at the time of the assault on Garda Paula Carter in the Clarehall area of Dublin on 14 February 2015.

The garda and her partner Garda David Egan were looking for a boy who had gone missing. They had received a report tat the 13-year-old boy might be located at a party in a house in Clarehall.

When they arrived at the house, a number of youths, including Kavanagh, were aggressive towards gardaí. The court heard Garda Carter felt herself being pulled back by her fleece by the 17-year-old and saw her colleague struggling with other youths.

She went to the assistance of her colleague and was pushed by Kavanagh “with significant force” to the ground and struck the back of her head off the footpath rendering her unconscious. He then kicked her a number of times as she lay unconscious on the ground. Her colleague went to her assistance and the youths fled the scene.

‘Very aggressive’

The injured garda was taken to hospital where she received a stitch to a cut at the back of her head. She had concussion and bruising to her legs from being kicked, as well as pain in her neck, back and a headache. The court heard that she now suffers from anxiety dealing with the public, particularly around large groups of young males.

Judge Sinead Ni Chulachain, who viewed CCTV of the incident, noted that Kavanagh, who has three previous convictions, had been “very aggressive and highly intoxicated”.

She also noted that the assault was not premeditated, no weapon was used and Kavanagh was not the only person involved.

Judge Ni Chulachain noted that Kavanagh was a young man at the time and since this offence he has enrolled in a number of courses as well as maintaining full-time employment. She took into account his relatively early guilty plea and a letter of remorse.

She imposed sentences totalling three years, which she suspended in full on strict conditions, including that he attend alcohol, offending behaviour and anger management work.

‘It’s not unusual’

The GRA’s John O’Keeffe said his organisation would not comment directly on this case in detail, other than to say that the sentence handed down “is not unusual when it comes to assaults on our frontline members”.

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“In the last six years there have been 1,267 assaults on gardaí. There were 174 such attacks nationwide in 2012. In 2016 this figure rose to 259 — an increase of almost 50% over four years,” he explained.

Astonishingly, over 5,500 gardaí have now been injured in the line of duty since 2005. Bites, grazes, and bruising are the most common injuries suffered by gardaí, followed by sprains, strains, closed fractures and open wounds. Internal head injuries were also suffered by certain garda, alongside internal injuries elsewhere in the body, as well as dislocations, infections, and open fractures.

“There is no comparable occupation where employees are likely to suffer such a debilitating range of injuries and subsequent illnesses while carrying out their normal operational duties.”

He said the GRA is calling for  judicial discretion to be removed when assaults on gardaí.

“An Garda Siochána are the guardians of the peace in this State. They are the last first and last line between civilization and chaos. Mandatory minimum sentences above are critical if we are to achieve justice for gardaí whom have been assaulted and indeed wider society.

“As defenders of the people, Irish society must now evidence a minimum level of disapproval when it comes to assaults and hate crime against gardaí, regardless of individual case circumstances.”

- With reporting by Fiona Ferguson at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. 

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