Reform of Garda needs to address gap between State and minorities

Opinion: Robust new policies could pave way for National Action Plan Against Racism

‘The failure to interact appropriately with minorities is not the fault of individual gardaí. The failure is, as the Minister for Justice has said, a systemic one. This failure was also implicit in  Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan’s report into the scandalous removal of the Roma children from their families by An Garda Síochána and the HSE.’ Above, Emily Logan with the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

‘The failure to interact appropriately with minorities is not the fault of individual gardaí. The failure is, as the Minister for Justice has said, a systemic one. This failure was also implicit in Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan’s report into the scandalous removal of the Roma children from their families by An Garda Síochána and the HSE.’ Above, Emily Logan with the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Thu, Aug 7, 2014, 00:01

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald recently pledged to oversee reform of the Garda Síochána “at every level”. This announcement is welcome, particularly if it constitutes an acknowledgement that reform is needed across the broader criminal justice system.

Accountability, transparency and oversight are essential. There is also growing evidence of the need for the Criminal Justice System and the Garda to address the confidence gap between the State and substantial minority in Ireland who are not from a white Irish and settled background. One indicator of this systemic failing to relate appropriately to our minorities is to be found in the latest Garda recruitment figures. These show ethnic minority applicants to the force to be down to 2.3 per cent in 2014, from a peak of 15 per cent in 2005. While it is unclear what the percentage of successful applicants from minority backgrounds was in these recruitment drives, today there are just 46 members of the 13,000 force from a minority background.

If we had a police service that was reflective of the composition of the wider society, we might expect that number to be at least 1,500.

No action taken Another indicator of this systemic failing is the persistent problem of the under

reporting of racism. According to research by European Network Against Racism Ireland, just one-fifth of members of minority groups say they report racist incidents to the Garda. While the number of reports carrying allegations of further racist and even violent victimisation by police is not insignificant, our research shows that under reporting occurs mostly because people don’t believe anything will be done about the racist incident they report.

One significant finding from our latest quarterly report on the data from the iReport.ie racist incident reporting system, is that in those cases where people did report incidents to the Garda, twice as many reported negative responses as reported positive ones. Negative responses ranged from the misclassification of incidents, to allegations that gardaí had refused to take statements from victims.

The failure to interact appropriately with minorities is not the fault of individual gardaí. The failure is, as the Minister has said, systemic. This failure was also implicit in Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan’s report into the scandalous removal of the Roma children from their families by the Garda and HSE. Ms Logan’s report noted that gardaí are as susceptible as anyone else to cultural and racial stereotypes and generalisations. Her recommendations specifically referred to the need for full and proper implementation of “future diversity strategies”, including training “to the highest standards”.

In Britain, in the aftermath of the McPherson report on the inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, London metropolitan police director of intelligence John Grieve welcomed the findings as “providing the clarity we had sought”.

Policy packages

Operational clarity, training, supports and resources needed by gardaí for dealing with minorities appropriately will come with the remaking of the Garda into a service that is fit for purpose in the intercultural reality in which we live.

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights offer training and policy packages for bringing police forces up to international best standards. Inviting these agencies in could be a first constructive step towards the Government advancing the proposed national plan against racism. Doing so would also require it to contain joined-up policy measures and provisions in law for tackling discrimination and hate crime, for outlawing racial profiling and policies for integrating Travellers and Roma as equals.

If it can meet this challenge, Ireland could become compliant with, among others, the Council of Europe’s 2008 framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia and with the recommendations from the United Nation’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2011.

Shane O’Curry is director of Enar Ireland, the European Network Against Racism in Ireland

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