Racial profiling by gardaí ‘probably does happen’, Varadkar says

Taoiseach says ‘a lot a racism isn’t malicious’ as first national action plan to combat issue for 15 years published

Jessica Odemena with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman and Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien at the launch of the National Action Plan Against Racism (NAPAR). Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Racial profiling by gardaí “probably does happen” and “it has to change”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking as the Government published the first national action plan against racism (NAPAR) in 15 years, Mr Varadkar said he did not think profiling by gardaí of people from ethnic minority or immigrant backgrounds was deliberate. He said members of the force may not be “clued in” on the issues in the way police in the United States are, however.

The action plan, published on Tuesday by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman and Minister of State for integration Joe O’Brien, details commitments from across Government departments and public bodies to address discrimination, tackle structural racism and promote the inclusion of ethnic and racial minorities.

Among its priority actions is to “identify and eliminate any policing practices that target specific groups experiencing racism, including through racial or ethnic profiling”.

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An Garda Síochána has not accepted that racial profiling is carried out by members of the force, despite claims by minority groups that it is a problem.

Asked if it was an issue, the Taoiseach said: “I don’t think it’s done deliberately. I genuinely don’t, but I think it probably does happen unintentionally and it’s not right. I think it should change and it has to change because assumptions should not be made about someone based on their appearance.

If you go to the US and talk to police departments there, they are much more clued into the fact that they can’t do that and they should be racially aware. That is something I think can be improved on.

—  Leo Varadkar

“What I hear of anecdotally and I don’t have enough evidence to support this, but assumptions can be made based on someone’s appearance that maybe their documents should be checked or their passport should be checked when you mightn’t do so with a person who is more traditionally Irish. We need to be a bit more clued into that.”

Mr Varadkar said “a lot a racism isn’t malicious”.

“It’s just that people aren’t clued in and don’t understand these things. If you go to the US and talk to police departments there, they are much more clued into the fact that they can’t do that and they should be racially aware. That is something I think can be improved on.”

Mr O’Gorman said a “centrepiece” of the five-year strategy was the appointment of a special rapporteur on racism and racial equality who would provide annual reports to him on progress in implementing the plan.

He said a data-classification scheme was being progressed to ensure outcomes for minority ethnic groups would be measured. This would be “advanced significantly” by the end of the year, he said.

“There is a clear recognition of the lack of an ethnic identifier in terms of the information that large parts of the public service gather. That we can’t get disaggregated data is really problematic.”

Mr O’Brien announced a €1 million Ireland Against Racism Fund to support local and national projects working to combat racism and foster community cohesion.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times