Not a single frontline Garda surveyed on attitudes towards Travellers had a favourable view of the community, according to an internal study of the organisation.
Gardaí also had similarly poor views of the Roma community, with almost 75 per cent of frontline members surveyed expressing poor opinions of its members, according to the study published this year, a copy of which was obtained by The Irish Times.
The main purpose of the study by Insp David McInerney was to evaluate the role of the garda ethnic liaison officer (ELO) programme, which he established in 2001. ELOs, who are now known as diversity officers, serve as contact points in the Garda for vulnerable minorities and investigate allegations of hate crimes.
Insp McInerney interviewed 182 gardaí from across the organisation, comprising 111 ELOs and 71 frontline gardaí, between 2012 and 2014.
“In most cases, the respondent ELOs and frontline officers displayed a one-sided and largely negative view of Travellers,” he said.
Garda headquarters said it had enacted numerous initiatives aimed at combatting discrimination since the interviews were carried out. It said it viewed the results of the study in a positive light and said it showed the success of the Garda’s ethnic liaison programme in improving opinions of minorities.
The study shows that gardaí who regularly interact with minorities as part of their work invariably have more positive views of them compared with gardaí on general duties.
It also quotes several gardaí making negative comments about Roma and Traveller people. “You’d spot them a mile off and they’re always up to no good,” one frontline garda said of Roma. “They’re always causing trouble for us,” said another about the Traveller community.
Asked to rank ethnic minorities, excluding Travellers, in order of preference, frontline gardaí placed the Roma community last out of six, below “Arabs” and “Blacks”.
Asked if they had a good or very good opinion of Travellers before joining the Garda, zero per cent of both frontline officers and ELOs said yes. Some 45 per cent of ELOs and 40 per cent of frontline officers said they had a poor or very poor opinion, with the remainder indicating a neutral opinion or declining to answer.
When asked about their opinion after joining the Garda, 32 per cent of ELOs said they had a good opinion of Travellers. However, this figure remained at zero for frontline officers, while the proportion with a “very poor” opinion rose by 10 per cent.
While some ELOs said interacting with Travellers in their job boosted their opinion of the community, comments from some other frontline members were less positive.
“Sure why would we go up to them when all we would get is hassle…opening up a hornet’s nest,” said one midlands Garda on encountering Travellers on his daily patrols.
Regarding the Roma community, 73 per cent of frontline gardaí and 43 per cent of ELOs had poor or very poor opinions. Zero frontline gardaí and 4 per cent of ELOs had positive opinions.
Opinions of other ethnic minorities were somewhat better. However, significant proportions of frontline gardaí still had negative views of Indian and Pakistani people (21 per cent), Arabs (30 per cent) and Black African (30 per cent).