Interpreters for gardaí are not vetted abroad


THE SELECTION of interpreters working for the Garda is so poor, their criminal records abroad have not been checked and some do not have basic accreditation and language proficiency, it has emerged.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said a Chinese interpreter hired recently to help interview a suspect was himself found to be an illegal immigrant.

In another case, a woman interpreting over the phone between a garda and a suspect was doing so while working on a market stall.

In a third case, when gardaí in Kanturk station in Cork wanted to interview three foreign suspects recently they had to wait for an hour and a half before an interpreter could be located.

The delay meant that much of the suspects’ detention time was spent before gardaí were in a position to question them. When an interpreter was found he refused to come to the station and would only interpret over the telephone.

The GRA has said the interpreter service is going to cost €12 million over four years with most of the money being retained as profits by agencies providing the interpreters.

Garda Tom O’Sullivan yesterday told delegates at the closing session of the GRA’s annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, that the whole interpreter system needs to be overhauled.

Mr O’Sullivan, who works as a garda in the Interpol office at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said that while the agencies providing the interpreters are earning considerable profits, the individual interpreters are “being paid buttons”.

“If money was paid directly to the interpreters it would drive their earnings up to a decent wage. There’d also be a significant saving to An Garda Síochána because you’d have the agencies out of the equation.”

When a member of the force needs an interpreter to help interview a foreign suspect or witness they ring any one of a number of designated agencies and an interpreter is provided.

Sometimes the interpreters travel to a Garda station and on other occasions they interpret via a speaker phone at a Garda station. The agency system was introduced in January.

Mr O’Sullivan said that in many cases agencies had hired interpreters after a short interview over the phone and without asking for a CV from them. Interpreters do not have to have any academic qualifications or accreditation. While those working for the Garda are vetted for a criminal record in Ireland, their backgrounds in their home countries are not checked.

The GRA said it has no idea if the people it is using are criminals and in many cases they have very poor English. It could not rule out the possibility that foreign gangs operating here had “planted” its own members to work as interpreters.

“The system does not have the safeguards to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

The GRA wants the agency system abolished and wants gardaí to be given a list of interpreters in their areas whose academic qualifications, language skills and criminal records have been verified. It said the system of using vetted individuals is in place in the UK and Australia and works well.

“The feedback we’re getting . . . is that the quality of individual interpreters is, in many cases, poor,” Mr O’Sullivan said.