Eight years after seeking asylum in Garda station ‘I walked out in uniform’

Sudita Zalli was 11 years old when she came to Ireland with her family from Albania and was so impressed by the gardaí she encountered she joined the force

Garda Sudita Zalli: Originally from Albania, she and her family sought asylum in Ireland in 2003. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

When she sought asylum at a Garda station in Dublin with her family at the age of 11, Sudita Zalli recalls a “seed being planted” which led to her joining An Garda Síochána.

Originally from Albania, Zalli and her family sought asylum in Ireland in 2003.

“We went in looking for help, we didn’t know where to go or how you register and the garda who dealt with us was amazing,” she said.

She said her family was treated with respect, dignity and humanity, an experience which led her to joining the Garda reserves at the age of 19, and eventually a full-time garda.


Some eight years after initially seeking asylum, “I walked out in uniform,” she said.

Zalli now works in the National Diversity Unit dealing with hate crime.

“My own personal experience in how we integrated and how we were accepted in 2003 and what’s happening at the moment is heartbreaking,” she said.

She was speaking at the launch of a recruitment drive for Garda reserves, amid Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s ambitious target to reach at least 1,000 Garda reserves by 2026, up from the current 341.

The voluntary role sees reserves placed in communities where they work to assist gardaí with local patrols and crime reduction initiatives.

They also assist in policing major incidents and events, traffic management and carry out admin duties.

Although now a full-time garda, Zalli was alongside three serving Garda reserves, all of whom work full time while carrying out their voluntary duties.

For example, Terry Butler works in transport, Sabrina Murphy works in airline operations and Ravinder Singh Oberoi works in IT, while volunteering as a reserve on the weekends.

Garda Sudita Zalli, reserve garda Terry Butler, reserve garda Sabrina Murphy and reserve garda Ravinder Singh Oberoi att Garda Headquarters on Friday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Despite the role being unpaid, they said their reason for joining was to “give back” and make a positive impact in local communities.

Others, like Zalli, join with the aim of becoming gardaí, with more than 80 reserves going on to train as such since 2017.

One moment in particular that stood out in making her decision to train as a full-time member was witnessing a family informed of a suicide by the garda with whom she was on duty.

“It’s a really sensitive issue that people don’t talk about, and family members remember that for the rest of their lives, their interaction with the guards at the lowest point of their life,” she said.

It was handled compassionately, with integrity and respect, she said, adding that it is more of a common occurrence than people might realise.

“There’s so much more to this job than members of the public might know,” she said adding “It’s not just about arresting someone for public order.”

She acknowledged a “negative perception” of gardaí among some, noting gardaí “can only work within our resources”.

“You really respect them a lot more with what they can do, given that their hands are tied so much,” she said.

Jack White

Jack White

Jack White is a reporter for The Irish Times