There has been a steep decline in the number of applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds to the Garda, statistics from the most recent recruitment campaign show.
Of the 18,435 applicants who took the first stage of tests this year to join the Garda, only 418 – about 2.3 per cent – said they were from an ethnic minority background, according to the Public Appointments Service.
By contrast, 4,926 people took the initial exams in 2005 and 734 were non-Irish – almost 15 per cent. For both years, about 20 per cent did not give their backgrounds.
While the 2005 recruitment drive was aggressively pitched to ethnic minority groups, the level of interest in the most recent recruitment campaign was so high that further outreach seemed unnecessary.
“We figured there was no need to push it that hard,” said Pádraig Love, head of corporate services at the Public Appointments Service.
Others suggest a deterioration in the relationship between Garda and some ethnic minority communities means people from those communities are less willing to apply.
The racial profiling of Roma families in October last year, which led to two blond children being taken into care, decreased confidence in the force.
A number of high-profile attacks on immigrants – such as the murder of 15-year-old Toyosi Shittabey in Tyrrelstown in 2010, and the death of taxi driver Moses Ayanwole in 2011 – have also eroded trust, said Mbemba Jabbi, the director of the Africa Centre. There's a sense that if you go to gardaí, nothing happens, Mr Jabbi said. "Do you want to be part of a system when a good number of your people don't trust it?"
There are 46 non-Irish full-time members of the roughly 13,000 member-force. "I've been in the country for seven years, and I've never seen a single one. It's not a career meant for an immigrant," says Diane Ihirwe Cooper (22), a student from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other Africans have raised concerns about there being no anti-hate-crime legislation, says Mr Jabbi. “If we are subjected to racism on the streets as a private citizen, what if you become a garda, what is going to happen to you then?”
The relatively few non-Irish applicants have struggled with the tests. A review following the 2005 campaign highlighted “poor levels of competence in English” and changes were made, said Mr Love. But this time only 1.3 per cent of the top 5,000 applicants – those most likely to be hired – were ethnic minorities, meaning they were less likely than white Irish applicants to gain places.
Some critics say it’s time for positive discrimination, to redress what they see as bias in the recruitment. “It would make for a much fairer police service and a much fairer society,” said Shane O’Curry, director of the European Network Against Racism
The Garda did not comment on whether the statistics are a cause for concern, or if there are any plans to review the approach. A Garda spokesperson noted it promoted the recruitment process through its website and social media channels.
The Garda Racial Intercultural Diversity Office “informed representative groups of minority communities of the process, met groups and individuals from minority communities who might be interested in joining,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.