Garda uses discretion over immigration status when investigating crime

Internal study for first time details force’s relationship with ethnic minorities

An Garda Síochána has a policy not to investigate the immigration status of people who may have entered the country illegally if that individual is a victim of or a witness to a crime, it has emerged.

However, the policy only stands while the inquiry is live. Once a case has concluded those suspected illegal immigrants, who have assisted the force, are referred to the Garda National Immigration Bureau for investigation.

This has been unwritten Garda policy for several years but it was detailed for the first time publicly in an internal study by Insp David McInerney into the force’s relationship with ethnic minorities, which was published earlier this year.

“There is no written instruction in this regard, and it is at the discretion of the [Garda ethnic liaison officer] how to act,” the study states.


Insp McInerney, who founded the force’s ethnic liaison officer programme, said he sought and obtained agreement from Garda management “to defer any action in cases where the question of deportation might arise in respect of an illegal migrant seeking Garda assistance, such as being a victim of crime or being a witness to an incident”.

No written rules

When an illegal immigrant seeks assistance as a victim of crime they are told no action will be taken against them by the immigration bureau “while any investigation is ongoing”.

“However, such people are duly advised that on termination of their case, that the legality of their presence in the State will be addressed through the legal system,” the report states.

The Garda press office was asked for a comment on the matter but had not responded by last evening.

Insp McInerney said there were no written rules in this area, instead discretion was applied in such cases.

His study documents how Garda ethnic liaison officers, now known as diversity officers, often use discretion in order to build up trust with vulnerable minorities. This includes ignoring arrest warrants and immigration status and persuading colleagues not to arrest certain suspects.

The study quotes one ethnic liaison officer who overlooked the immigration status of a man who had been the victim of a racist assault.

“It turned out that he was illegal, but I pretended I did not know this,” the officer said.


“I just got on with helping him and investigating the incident. I could have rung [the] GNIB (Garda National Investigations Bureau), but he was in bits.”

In another instance, a garda persuaded his colleagues not to arrest an Angolan man nicknamed Alphonso who had mental health issues.

“Two of the lads and the jailer were hanging out of a black fella who was naked and there was a beating match taking place, trying to get him into the station,” an ethnic liaison officer stated.

"The lads had some battle with him. I stopped the lads taking this any further and looked after Alphonso. Lucky I came along when I did because poor aul' Alphonso would have ended up in custody for assault and resisting arrest.

“If I hadn’t known him . . . you can imagine that this guy would have suffered further torment being locked up and all that. The lads listened to me because they know all the blacks know me.”

Another ethnic liaison officer described overlooking outstanding arrest warrants when dealing with members of the Traveller community.

“I get nothing but respect from them. They know I could lock up many of them, but I just keep my mouth shut,” the officer said.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times