Garda HQ rebuffs charges of racism in IHREC report

Garda HQ rebuffs charges of racism in IHREC report

As reported yesterday by the 'Irish Examiner', the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission called for measures to curb racial profiling by gardaí — but, in a detailed statement, An Garda Síochána has rebuffed IHREC's claims. Stock picture: Dan Linehan

Garda HQ is questioning the basis upon which the State’s human rights body has accused members of the force of holding “negative attitudes” towards ethnic minorities, and of engaging in racial profiling.

The organisation has not issued an official comment on the matter, but the Irish Examiner understands that garda management takes exception to what they see as “blanket” statements of racial profiling and discrimination made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

Garda bosses contend that there is no data, or research, on racial profiling in the organisation that can show whether or not it exists. They say this is because they do not have a legal basis to gather information on the ethnicity or religion of people they arrest or search.

The IHREC made the statements in a comprehensive set of recommendations to Ireland’s first national action plan against racism, which is due to be finalised later this year.

Details of the recommendations were published in yesterday’s Irish Examiner.

'Gardaí had no opportunity to respond'

Senior garda sources said they were not given a chance to respond to the IHREC prior to publication of what they say are “serious allegations, effectively of racism”. One source said: 

These are blanket statements of discrimination and racial profiling by gardaí, but there’s no evidence or data to back it up. 

In its report, the IHREC said: “There are negative attitudes amongst Garda members towards minority ethnic groups, as well as reports of racial profiling in the use of stop and search powers, including reports from young minority ethnic people.”  It cited two pieces of research to support this: the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI Report on Ireland, in 2019, and Garda research, conducted in 2012-2014 but published last year, detailing negative views among gardaí of Travellers.

The commission said it also noted reports which indicated that minority ethnic communities can be underprotected and overpoliced, including due to racial profiling and referred to a 2019 IHREC report.

Concerns about proposed extension of surveillance tech

The commission said it raised concerns in August 2020 about the extension of surveillance technology proposed in the Garda Síochána (Digital Recording) Bill and its “potential equality implications due to minority groups’ experience of racial profiling”.

It also said that “some participants” at a consultation it held in 2019 “raised concerns about the targeting of people from minority ethnic groups including with regard to stop and search powers”.

The commission said discrimination does not explicitly constitute a breach of discipline under current garda regulations, and also said concerns have been raised about the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's (Gsoc's) ability to effectively address and investigate complaints of racial profiling by garda members.

It recommended the Government prioritise legislation to prohibit racial profiling and take measures to address it, including an independent racial profiling complaints mechanism, and a review of all relevant Garda policies.

In addition, the IHREC urged the adoption of “specific targets” for the recruitment of ethnic minorities and a review of promotion procedures.

Garda measures regarding human rights and diversity 

Officially, An Garda Síochána said it did not comment “on remarks or reports by third parties”. However, the Garda Press Office did issue a detailed statement to the Irish Examiner setting out measures the organisation had taken in the area of human rights and diversity.

“An Garda Síochána is committed to providing a human rights focused police service that ensures equitable and fair treatment for everyone we engage with,” it said.

It said the Garda Code of Ethics specifically stated that garda personnel should treat everyone with respect and fairness, and that any behaviour or language that demonstrates discrimination or disrespect “is to be opposed and challenged”.

Human rights focus

The statement said that, under its Human Rights Strategy 2020-2022, An Garda Síochána had introduced a number of measures to ensure it is delivering a human rights-focused policing service. This has included the appointment of an independent human rights advisor and the establishment of a Garda Human Rights Section. It said this has also seen the re-establishment of its Strategic Human Rights Advisory Council.

It said the Strategic Human Rights Advisory Committee was made up of a number of external experts and human rights organisations who provided their advice and expertise to the organisation on key human rights issues such as the collection of an individual’s ethnicity.

“The Garda Commissioner has repeatedly acknowledged that the organisation needs to be more reflective of the communities we serve,” the statement said.

Diversity recruitment initiative 

It said that, during 2020, work on a “diversity recruitment roadmap” had commenced, involving consultation internally and externally to identify the key challenges for the organisation in recruiting and retaining people from minority backgrounds.

“This information will inform future recruitment competitions,” it said.

It said the organisation is to shortly operate an intern scheme for secondary school leavers and third-level graduates from minority communities. They will take up paid internships in support areas such as HR, ICT, finance, administration, and communications.

Further initiatives to reflect diversity

It said that, in the last year, the organisation also established the Garda National Diversity Forum, which includes representatives from minority communities and groups, to provide feedback on the organisation’s diversity strategy.

The statement also referred to the Garda network of diversity officers who were in regular liaison and consultation with minority communities and groups.

“For example, throughout the pandemic, An Garda Síochána has been in regular contact with minority communities and representative groups to provide support, advice and assistance,” it said.

The statement said the organisation has produced Covid-19 advice videos in 12 languages, and in conjunction with the Traveller community and the deaf community.

In April 2019, garda policy towards the wearing of turbans or headscarves was changed — formally reflected in policies published this year.

Garda HQ said 500 members and staff received human rights training at the University of Limerick last year, and that this will continue.

Garda HQ produced a Garda Diversity and Integration Strategy in October 2019, including a definition of hate crime. Last July, it introduced a new online hate crime reporting system.

Last December, it published the Garda Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy Statement & Action Plan 2020-2021, which included measures in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

The IHREC is due to present its recommendations in person to the Government’s anti-racism committee on September 16.

The Government, through the Department of Justice, may seek a formal response from An Garda Síochána before the National Action Plan Against Racism is finalised.

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