Ireland's first woman police chief has told of her fears that she would be sacked when she refused as a recruit to make ham sandwiches for work colleagues.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan opened up about her experience of sexism in the early years of her career when she was based at Dublin’s busy Store Street station. It happened in 1981 when women had been members of the force for only 22 years.

A woman sergeant called her back to the station when she was working overtime on an investigation. She was asked if she would go to a nearby shop and buy bread and ham to make sandwiches.

O’Sullivan, 53, who became commissioner last year, said she was brought up in a family where all were treated as equals.

The mother of three said, “We were all made do the same chores. We were all made work as hard as each other. That was the expectation.”

She added, “I decided no. Not really a good idea if you’re a recruit. The female sergeant on duty was very taken aback and the new forward-thinking superintendent intervened.”

He handed her some money and asked her to go and buy some bread. Again she refused.

She was sent home and was surprised to learn upon her return the next day that her defiant stand had a positive impact after initially fearing she would “be sacked.”

O’Sullivan said the superintendent told her he heard she had been discussing ideas with her colleagues. Within a couple of weeks, she was part of the first ever undercover unit that tackled Dublin’s rampant drug problem.

She told the “'A Woman's Place Is in the World” conference in Dublin Castle that knock-backs only added to her ambition.

She recalled an incident where she called to the home of a man who had requested assistance.

But after knocking his door three times, the man subsequently told her he wanted the help of a “real policeman.”

O’Sullivan added, “At the time people weren’t really sure what to do and women had a very defined and confined role in terms of what the expectation was we could do.”