The Cabinet has approved changes in the entry requirements for An Garda Siochana that will enable non-nationals to join the force.
Under the new rules applicants to join the force will no longer have to hold a qualification in Irish or English. Instead, they will have to be able to prove they are competent in two languages, at least one of which must be English or Irish.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell said in a statement the requirement to have an academic qualification Irish had effectively ruled non-nationals out of becoming gardaí. An estimated 10 per cent of all people living in Ireland were born outside the country.
Entry to the Garda will now be open to all EU, EEA or Swiss nationals as well as anyone from any other state who has lived in Ireland for five years. The Minister said non-Irish speakers would be required to take basic lessons in the language as part of their Garda training.
"It's very important that An Garda Siochana has the linguistic and cultural insight into all ethnic communities that they police," Mr McDowell told a briefing this afternoon. "If the Commissioner needed experienced officers to deal with the policing issues that arise with our resident Chinese community here, he would be enabled under new regulations to go to countries where there are Chinese police officers who would have an insight into the common law system and to recruit them straight into An Garda Siochana on a technical basis."
Mr McDowell insisted that he would ensure there remained a strong emphasis on Irish within the gardaí. He said it was a right of all citizens to be able to speak "our native language" to police officers if they wished to do so.
A new Garda recruitment campaign will begin next month. Mr McDowell said this would help in achieving his target of 14,000 gardaí by early 2007. He noted that the recent change of the upper age limit for new gardaí from 26 to 35 had seen a "significant" influx of new recruits in this age category.
The recruitment campaign will consist of advertisements and promotional material aimed at ethnic minorities. It is understood there will be no quota on the number of non-nationals in the force and recruitment will not be targeted at any particular ethnic group.