Explicit ban on racial profiling of Travellers by gardaí needed, new report recommends

University of Limerick report notes Travellers ‘overpoliced as suspects and under-policed as victims’

An explicit ban on racial profiling by gardaí, as well as an Independent investigation into Garda failures to respond to crimes against Travellers, especially Traveller women suffering domestic violence, must take place, according to a report published today.

The recommendations feature in a University of Limerick (UL) report, which finds that 91 per cent of Travellers feel disrespected by gardaí and significant majorities believe they are profiled, are “unsafe” in Garda custody, and would not seek Garda support when victims of crimes.

Dr Jennifer Schweppe, senior law lecturer at UL and co-investigator on the report, described many of the findings as “disgraceful”.

“Some people in powerful positions need to start answering questions,” she said, particularly An Garda Síochána concerning raids on Traveller homes without search warrants and racial profiling in stop-and-search, and the judiciary on the experiences of Traveller defendants and crime victims in the courts.


Irish Travellers’ Access to Justice is a 146-page report and UL says the community’s “significantly lower” trust in gardaí and the courts are rooted in “well-founded ... fears of wrongful arrest, excessive use of force, wrongful conviction, disproportionately high sentences, and wrongful imprisonment”.

Travellers are “simultaneously overpoliced as suspects and under-policed as victims”, experiencing “hostility and discrimination from criminal justice professionals” including gardaí, judges, barristers, solicitors, court officials and probation officers.

Drawing on extensive research, including surveys, interviews with one in every 100 adult Travellers and staff across Traveller organisations, researchers say while 36 per cent of respondents reported a positive interaction with gardaí in the previous five years “the vast majority of interviewees ... described the relationship between gardaí and Travellers ... as negative ... [and] dominated by fear.”

They reported racial slurs and assaulted by gardaí. Half said they had been present when gardaí entered homes uninvited in the previous five years and just 11 per cent were shown search warrants. Reports of “excessive use of force and resulting trauma caused to families and children” during these raids gave rise to “significant human rights concerns”, notes the report.

Feeling safe

Four-fifths said they had been stopped by gardaí at least once in the previous five years, with 59 per cent believing being Traveller prompted the stop.

Some 64 per cent did not feel safe in custody and a small number reported being assaulted. “I couldn’t breathe, they, they sit on top of me, they called me names, and simply, degraded me very badly being honest, and just left me there then, then, until the medic came around some time later,” said one interviewee.

“The vast majority of interviewees from Traveller organisations believe Travellers are presumed guilty [in the courts] and have to prove their innocence,” it notes.

Senator Eileen Flynn, the first and only Traveller member of the Oireachtas, told The Irish Times she had been stopped several times by gardaí before her current role. “I do believe guards target Travellers. They think: ‘I’ve a winning lotto ticket here’ because they’ve stopped a Traveller.”

Co-director of Pavee Point Martin Collins said gardaí and judges were “human beings” who absorbed the prejudices of wider society. “The challenge is to not let that affect their professionalism ... or to let biases influence decision making. If other jurisdictions like the UK and the United States have found their justice systems have problems with institutional racism, why should we think for one second ours is immune?”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times