Interviewed on 1 October 2021
Garda Catherine Bartley joined An Garda Síochána in 1987 and retired in 2019, having worked in various sections of the force, latterly the Dog Unit, where she spent many years and became well known for her work the Garda dogs. Catherine was interviewed for the project on 1st October 2021. In this piece of audio, Catherine speaks about her efforts to change the traditional uniform for female Gardaí.
JOHN O’BRIEN (INTERVEIWER): So that was an incredible experience. Ehm, and like you say, it was a full operational life, plenty of contact, plenty social contact with them, sporting contact, all good stuff. But I know you were fighting another battle, Catherine, in relation to the dress of women Gardaí, and I think we were still calling them Ban Gardaí at that stage, and that’s a story in itself. But you had campaigned, I think realistically, that wearing, wearing a skirt for operational policing wasn’t really, ehm, wasn’t really very suitable.
MS. BARTLEY: Fit for purpose.
MR. O’BRIEN: Yeah. So how did all that come about and how it did it resolve itself, Catherine?
MS. BARTLEY: Well, in 1990, I was on duty at 5:00 o’clock in the morning in Grafton Street, and it was freezing cold. Absolutely it was around January I think. And I came back in and my legs were purple because all I had was the skirt and a pair of tights. And the great, the old greatcoat . Now at this stage as well, they had given the fellas patrol jackets. And Gore Tex wets. We were still wearing the greatcoat and that stupid raincoat and the pixie Wellington boots and, ehm so I actually was in pain with my legs that night. Like I can still remember it. And I says “I have to do something about this.” And there had been a few previous occasions as well where one night I was trying to climb over an 8 foot gate and I got to the top of the gate and I went to throw my leg over the gate and I ended up coming back over the gate, backwards, because my the skirt had restricted me. And another night, a burglary down in Wellington Quay, trying to get in the window of the shop, and actually landing having a fall backwards, because again the skirt had restricted me.
MR. O’BRIEN: You decided to take direct action.
MS. BARTLEY: Direct action is right. (Laughs). So I, I organised I think there was about 500 women in the Guards at that stage. And I organised like I done a handmade poster and I went around the stations and I got in contact with, ehm, Mary Burbridge, Pauline Reid, Ann Shallou, who was down in Cork, and, ehm, and myself, yeah. That was about it. And we between us we put posters up everywhere, in all the stations, and with the help of the GRA, in particular Jerome Twomey, God rest him, and John Tuohy, we organised this meeting with some Chief up in, ehm, the Harrington Street. And, ehm, they agreed to meet us as long as there was no press involved. And there was murder there. The place erupted because there was people after coming out of Templemore and they were up on The Border for the foot and mouth, and what was happening was the girls, as I said, had a skirt and this stupid jacket, and the fellas had all the wet gear. So the women actually had to change into their colleague’s gear that they had worn for 12 hours in sweat and rain and everything, so they had some protection from the weather. Yeah. And there was people that were up on The Border actually down at the meeting. And, as I said, all hell broke loose. And it made a few headlines and it got things going. So, I think I can’t remember the exact date, but later on that year, towards the end of the year, there was a few other people got involved in it then and they appointed a few more in the Depot and all to look into this and whatever, but we ended up getting the trousers and the patrol jackets and the wets and everything else.
MR. O’BRIEN: How long did it take from that meeting in Harrington Street to get out to the other side of…
MS. BARTLEY: About a year, I’d say. Towards the end of the year. And I remember well it was actually early the next year and I got to wear the trousers for about two weeks, and I can still remember walking down Westmoreland Street and this auld lad comes up to me, the first day I was out in them, and I was delighted with myself, with my trousers, and the next thing he says “excuse me Ban Garda”, he says, “but I much prefer to have the skirts”, and I said to him “well I have one I don’t want any more, you can have it”, I says to him.