Nobody dials 999 for the fun of it

Thankfully, during the course of my lifetime, I’ve had no reason to be in a situation whereby I needed to dial 999 and request Garda assistance. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had a lot of interaction (all of it positive) with members of An Garda Síochána in the course of my work – both as an investigative journalist and as an animal welfare officer. I also had the privilege and the pleasure of delivering training to members of the force, mainly at Store Street Garda Station in Dublin, over a number of years regarding animal welfare and legislation, etc.

I have enormous respect for those who, on a daily basis, put on that fab new uniform and, more importantly, place their lives on the line in a bid to keep us, the citizens of Ireland, safe.

However, I have to say folks – if I did ever need to dial 999 for Garda assistance, I’d expect the call-taker at the other end of the line to be professional, polite, empathetic and efficient. Not only that, I’d assume I could trust them to be trained to such a high specification that they’d ask me – the distressed, vulnerable caller – leading questions regarding my situation. Questions like the level of threat I believed my predicament posed, my location, my contact information and other relevant details pertaining to the circumstances which had forced me into this emergency position.

What I would not expect is that the individual  tasked with dealing with delicate and possibly life-threatening situations would be ‘rude’, ‘impatient’ or that they’d ‘lack empathy’ with me. However, given the shocking findings from the report commissioned by ‘the Garda oversight body’ into the ‘incorrect cancellation of 999 calls’ between January 2019 and October 2020, it seems this was the case.

It’s not my intention to pass judgement on our Gardaí, the majority of whom are (in my opinion) heroes who’re totally dedicated to doing their job. However, Commissioner Harris’ acknowledgement that there were “missed opportunities” to engage with callers, saying he could not give a “complete assurance about the behaviour of those who take the calls”, is not only pathetic – it’s extremely disquieting. Why? Because since his appointment in 2018 (to the tune of €250,000 a year), it has been his job to oversee the day-to-day running of our police force, and to put it bluntly, he should be able to give us, the public, his ‘complete assurance’!

For the sake of balance and fairness, I’d like to recognise that these ‘shortcomings’ around ‘cancelled calls’ were isolated incidents, which are far outweighed by the public’s positive experiences with wonderful rank and file Gardaí. I’d also like to specifically stress that I’m certain the majority of those individuals based in control rooms not only work extremely hard, they also do it in exceptionally difficult, stress-inducing circumstances; and their trauma should never be overlooked.

Indeed, as emergency call-takers are making vitally important decisions hour in, hour out, ones which can affect lives, it’s crucial that interventions are made to ensure these hugely important personnel can fully cope with their workload, their duties, and the challenges they undoubtedly face.

That said, while the force has a responsibility regarding these call-takers’ welfare, it equally has a responsibility around the welfare, wellbeing and safety of those who’re making the calls, because – how can I put it – nobody dials 999 for the fun of it!

Far be it from me to presume I could offer advice to our Garda Commissioner, but offer it I will. When Mr Harris has finalised the disciplinary process (and those who messed up should be taken to task), since emergency call-takers need to quickly evaluate the seriousness posed in a situation (and to do that they depend on the caller to provide a speedy report), perhaps, moving forward, he could do the following: Implement a series of top quality training initiatives, strict supervision and ongoing psychological assessment for call-takers, because it’s only then that the public can have ‘complete assurance’ that the voices at the end of the line tasked with doing one of the country’s toughest jobs are both capable and competent enough to deal with all circumstances.


Has the ‘sleepwear-as-daywear’ trend taken over? I hope not!

I may be crossing a boundary here, but I believe there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to wear pyjamas/nightclothes out to the shops. Why? Because sleepwear is not acceptable outdoor attire!

It’s for this reason I applaud owners of the ‘Sage & Stone’ café in County Meath, who recently posted a ‘no pyjamas allowed’ rule on social media, adding they ‘draw the line at people coming to dine in our café for breakfast wearing their pyjamas’ – and rightly so.

I hate to sound morally outraged, but while some believe that wearing their jammies to the supermarket, or while meeting friends for brunch is the height of fashion, for others (myself included), it’s viewed as being the height of laziness! Why? Because you’ve just slept in them!

I don’t care if the label inside those jammies says Versace, or if they’re a cheap ‘n’ cheerful, serviceable, well washed, bobbly cotton pair bought locally, or a leopard print onesie sourced online – it’s unhygienic. Oh and by the way, if the style-statement you were aiming for was messy-just-rolled-out-off-bed-chic ‘n’ yummy, let me tell you hon, you missed… it’s slummy!

If you’ve just spent eight hours tossing, turning and sweating in these clothes, they’re crumpled and covered in cornflakes, toothpaste and, ahem, other stains. You need to do the decent thing and take them off, pop them into the linen basket and pull on some form of clean and comfy daywear! Please!

Don’t get me wrong readers, I’m not saying we should all turn up at the coffee-shop Kardashian-ready! Nay nay, and sure I’m far from being a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ myself. However, given the roll-call of Ugg-boot shod, pouting, Hello Kitty jammie-wearing poseurs I’ve witnessed trudging around some supermarkets lately (one or two of which are only short of accessorising with the duvet), I’m concerned the sleepwear-as-daywear trend is taking over, and sadly, common decency and self-respect have flown straight out the window!


Finger-wagging, tut-tutters need to back-off bottle-feeding mothers

According to a report in the Irish Independent, Sabina Higgins (Michael D’s wife), while speaking at a ‘Latching On’ event, warned that new mothers were being “thrown out” of hospital after giving birth, when they actually needed to be allowed to remain longer to learn how to breastfeed.

I fully agree with Mrs Higgins that mothers are being ‘thrown out’ of hospitals too soon following what is (in my humble opinion, having given birth twice) a physically traumatic experience on one’s body; it’s also an emotional one, albeit those emotions are filled with love and relief.

Where I don’t agree is in the fact that Mrs Higgins appears to favour the breast-feeders over the bottle-feeders. Therefore, I must ask if this means she believes that those who opt for formula should be turfed out of hospital with priority given to those who ‘latch-on’?

I mean, why should the exclusively breastfeeding mothers get to stay for a few extra days in hospital – and those of us whose babies hungrily gulp down a bottle of formula get slung out twenty-four hours after the ‘event’?

There are plenty of reasons why a woman, having literally pushed another human out of her body, or having undergone a C section, would not wish to breastfeed, and it’s time the finger-wagging, judgemental, tut-tutters backed off and minded their own business.

I’m sure Mrs Higgins is a lovely lady who meant well. However, perhaps the reason Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world is because there are many mothers like me, who, having done nine months of pregnancy, just wanted our bodies back to ourselves!