Arabic speakers needed in Garda, not more guns

Gardaí must engage in community policing and get to know members of minority groups

The public has, by and large, welcomed the fact the three Islamic State extremists who struck in London last Saturday night were quickly shot dead by London Met armed officers.

The remains of the three men, who killed eight people and injured 48 in a stabbing attack, lay in the streets within eight minutes of the first 999 call having been received.

The inevitable questioning has begun in Ireland: 'Would the Garda get there as quickly if the same thing happened here?'

The reality is that officers from the London Met may never get to, or end, such an attack within eight minutes again.


If police officers, including gardaí, find themselves running to confront armed extremists slashing bystanders while wearing hoax explosive vests, savagery has already triumphed over decent society.

Not unimportant

Getting as many Garda guns as possible onto an Irish street under attack is not unimportant. But that capability already exists in the shape of the Emergency Response Unit and Armed Response Unit in Dublin and the Regional Support Units outside the capital.

The Garda staff associations believe all Garda members - including the unarmed uniformed members - need anti-terror training.

This would include very basic tactics such as sealing off streets or clearing an area rapidly and safely should the need arise. It sounds like a good idea coming from the people who know the frontline best - those who form it.

But in the saturation news coverage since it emerged one of the London attackers - Moroccan-Libyan Rachid Redouane (30) - lived in Ireland and got married here, it should not be forgotten that the risk of a major attack here is regarded as low.

A flood of highly-visible armed gardaí onto the streets would be there just for the sake of it, and in the absence of hard information stating a terror attack is coming. Such a move would only create panic.

Community policing

What is needed is more Garda members engaging in community policing and getting to know minority groups. The State also needs more people from ethnic minorities in Garda uniforms.

There is evidence though that the trend is going in the wrong direction.

Since Garda recruitment resumed three years ago, the number of applicants from ethnic minority groups has been lower than 3 per cent - a steep decline on the 15 per cent figure of 2005.

Those are the numbers we need to concern ourselves with, much more than replicating the eight-minute shoot-to-kill standard set in London on Saturday night.

As any passing out parade in the Garda College, Templemore, will show, white Irish is still the predominant ethnicity in the Garda. And even among the non-white recruits, there are few black or brown faces.

The lack of Garda or Defence Force members who speak Arabic seems like a gaping weakness in our security services. Being able to attract gardaí from those countries where radicalisation is breeding most intensely would be a huge benefit, as would having an expert in spotting online radicalisation.

However, the Garda’s inability to bring in such candidates is cemented by the fact the only way into the organisation is through one door - as a Templemore recruit, on the bottom rung and with a paltry starting salary.

Top personnel

The force needs to be able to head-hunt top personnel, even in small numbers, from international police forces where they have already honed the skills required. And the salaries on offer for sworn officer and civilian jobs in areas where niche expertise is needed must be exponentially increased.

A mainly white Irish police force will not penetrate ethnic minority communities easily. It is in these communities that extremism is most likely to emerge and where it will be first noticed.

If those who spot what they believe are the first signs of extremism trust gardaí, and occasionally meet some of them, they may feel comfortable enough to pass information to the force. But if they know nothing about the Garda and never see them around, the passing on of information becomes less likely.

Intelligence either flows from ethic minority communities to the Garda or it does not. The chances are increased by having more gardaí from ethnic minorities in the force.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) has complained that community policing has been “decimated”. It has said more than one third of all 96 Garda districts have no full-time community policing gardaí assigned.

Of the 540 assigned nationally, 328 are attached to the six Dublin Metropolitan Region divisions with rural divisions having much smaller numbers, an analysis from Agsi published last year shows.

Corrupt police

Many members of ethnic minorities in Ireland come from countries where violence is meted out by corrupt police forces. They are immediately distrusting of a Garda uniform and badge.

When the Garda comes seeking their help to solve a crime or learn more about a suspect, seeing a face that looks somewhat like theirs looking back at them is a benefit.

The Garda Reserve has been successful in attracting many foreign nationals from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

"There were definitely times when I felt that because I didn't look Irish helped me," one reservist told The Irish Times about dealing with incidents involving foreign members of the public.

“Because I also wasn’t Irish, sometimes people will confide in you or turn to you more than an Irish [Garda] member. It’s like, ‘ah, you’re an outsider too.’”

Numbers in the Reserve have, however, fallen significantly in recent years - from 1,200 in 2013 to about 700 at present. It is planned to increase the size of the Garda Reserve to 2,000.

The size of the full-time Garda force is also being increased, from 12,000 to 15,000. And the number of civilians is being increased to 4,000.

‘New Irish’

As the force expands, more and more of those joining need to be the “new Irish”. And within that group, the Garda desperately needs Arabic speakers.

In December, 2013, when Garda recruitment recommenced, 100 jobs were initially advertised.

The Garda and Department of Justice said that up to 10 per cent of the intake would be fluent Irish speakers. When the class finally entered the college late the following year, 11 were fluent Irish speakers.

None of the 100-strong class spoke Arabic.