Discrimination report - Garda must recruit from minorities

AS a result of the European Union’s minorities and discrimination survey published last month, the Garda Síochána has been accused of racial discrimination, because black Africans are twice as likely to subjected to Garda stops as other members of the public.

During a 12-month period 59% of Africans were stopped in this country at least once.

This stop rate was the highest for any ethnic minority surveyed in any of the 27 EU member states during 2008. Only in Greece – where 56% of the Roma community surveyed were stopped by the police at least once in 12 months – did any minority group experience near the rate of sub-Saharan Africans in Ireland.

These figures suggest that gardaí are stopping black Africans simply because they are black, not because there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they have committed any offence.

A Garda spokesman insists that this will not be tolerated in the force, but something needs to be done, because it is breeding anger and resentment. Even where such profiling cannot be proved, the report suggests that the fact that a significant percent of a minority believe that they are victims of profiling is an indication that the Garda need to improve their relations and interaction with that minority.

Evidence to suggest such profiling has been largely anecdotal, but the EU report amounts to proof that – wittingly or not – gardaí are engaging in a degree of racial discrimination. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has identified Ireland as among the six worst countries in relation to racial discrimination, because 73% of those surveyed from sub-Saharan Africa stated they experienced racism in Ireland.

While this country does not have the same history of racism as other European countries, we need to be aware that racism is prevalent here and on the increase on the continent. Sensationalist media reports and anecdotal stories of minority groups receiving extra social welfare payments or benefiting from welfare fraud have led to a degree of public uneasiness that could incite racial hatred.

A spokesman for the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office, which was set up in 2001, has called for more balanced reporting. There are currently three full-time members of that office along with 602 ethnic liaison officers appointed in every station throughout the country. Those officers undergo a two-day training course on anti-discriminatory policing, human rights, ethics and multicultural issues.

The Garda Síochána has also sought to recruit from Chinese and Eastern European communities, but to date there are no black officers among the country’s 13,000 gardaí. Although there have been some black applicants, none has yet had the necessary qualifications.

Following the removal a couple of years ago of the requirement of a proficiency in the Irish language, it is hoped that recruitment of members from minority communities will be accelerated. We need to face this issue now, before it becomes a serious problem.

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