Presentation by Brigid Quilligan, Director of ITM, to Justice Committee on Garda Síochána Oversight on 14 May 2014

I am delighted to be here, on foot of our submission, to talk about oversight of An Garda Síochána. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Damien Walshe, membership development worker with the Irish Traveller Movement.
I welcome the opportunity for our organisation to feed into a vital process to ensure the police force has an independent process to oversee policing. I stress from the outset that the Irish Traveller Movement recognises the difficult job the women and men of An Garda Síochána face in their work, facing not only dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations on a daily basis but also the impact of cutbacks to their services, which places additional pressures on members of the Garda in carrying out their functions. The Irish Traveller Movement has a strong relationship with the racial, intercultural and diversity office of An Garda Síochána and our organisation has been regularly invited to talk to trainees in Templemore on the issues Travellers face and the work we do as a movement.
As committee members will have seen in our submission, our members, local Traveller organisations, have stressed the positive relationships that have been built between Travellers, Traveller organisations and An Garda Síochána at a local level through initiatives such as the local Traveller inter-agency committees. This work is to be applauded as it has had a substantial influence in building trust between members of my community and members of the Garda. Trust in the policing service, given the pivotal role An Garda Síochána plays, is vital for every member of Irish society, regardless of ethnicity. However, as noted in our submission, trust in the police force among Travellers is not as strong as it is it is among the general population. Our submission to the committee stressed and our presentation will stress the need for an independent policing board and suggest Traveller representation on the board will be vital to build on this trust into the future.
In comparison with a Garda public attitudes survey, PAS, a Traveller-ethnic minority communities attitudes survey, TEMCAS, conducted by An Garda Síochána in 2007 showed significant levels of dissatisfaction with the force among Travellers. While 14% of the general population surveyed were “very satisfied” with the service of An Garda Síochána, only 5% of Travellers were. More worrying, while 16% of the general population were “dissatisfied”, 26% of Travellers were and while only 3% of the general population were “extremely dissatisfied” with the service of An Garda Síochána, 22% of Travellers were. Therefore, we can see from a survey carried out by the force that there is cause for concern in terms of the relationship between Travellers and An Garda Síochána. We note that this survey which has not been replicated since was carried out before the establishment of local Traveller inter-agency committees, whereby relationships have developed between Traveller organisations and An Garda Síochána.
The Traveller-ethnic minority communities attitudes survey suggested attitudes towards the Garda were related negatively to personal experience of the Garda. In both surveys with the general public and minority groups those who had no contact were more likely to express higher levels of overall satisfaction with the Garda than those who had contact. This is borne out by concerns raised by our members in preparing our submission to the committee. Many Travellers do not believe the Garda offers protection to them in Travellers being the victims of crime, for example, there is a slow response time to calls of incidents on Traveller halting sites. Travellers believe gardaí see them only as criminals, never as victims, and cite the practice of frequently stopping and searching or questioning Travellers, especially van drivers and young Traveller men, which further erodes trust between the force and the community. Some Travellers report frequent Garda car patrols on halting sites or group housing schemes, up to three times a day in some cases. Travellers believe this is merely to keep them under surveillance, as during these patrols there is no interaction between gardaí and the community. The surveillance, or perceived surveillance, of the entire community by gardaí further alienates Travellers from An Garda Síochána. Installation of CCTV cameras beside existing or planned Traveller accommodation, without notification or public consultation, erodes trust further.
On direct contact between Travellers and An Garda Síochána, while many Travellers have positive relationships not only in reporting crime and making enquiries, members of An Garda Síochána have been tasked with carrying out evictions of Traveller families, which strains relationships. Travellers often believe the use of armed response units and large numbers of gardaí when other State officials are visiting halting sites creates a conflictual stance whereby the Garda is no longer their police force.
On Travellers using the Garda, some Travellers do not believe they are treated with respect when they need to use Garda stations, for example, there is a lack of eye contact and an unfriendly manner, while gardaí casually drop into an unrelated conversation the fact that they know other family members who have criminal records, which makes innocent people feel criminalised and that they have been racially profiled.
This negative relationship is not only noted by our members, it is borne out by research carried out by An Garda Síochána which was alluded to earlier.
The work that has been undertaken and the relationships that have been built up through the hard work of An Garda Síochána and local Traveller organisations has been severely damaged recently by the allegations by Garda whistleblowers of ethnic profiling of Travellers, including Traveller infants, on the Garda PULSE system.
The Irish Traveller Movement has been inundated with calls and e-mails from Travellers who fear their details and those of their children have been entered onto the PULSE system simply because of their identity. These few allegations have caused such widespread distress among the community and have seriously impacted on relationships between the Garda Síochána and Travellers in Ireland. I wrote to the then Minister for Justice and Equality asking for Sean Guerin’s investigation to be broadened to specifically investigate these claims. Unfortunately, this did not materialise and an opportunity to restore Travellers’ confidence in our police force was lost.
I will wrap it up. Thank you, Chairman. Given the concerns outlined by our members, it appears that not enough has been done to overcome potential institutional bias. Indeed, the allegations of ethnically profiling Traveller infants has confirmed for many Travellers the existence of institutional anti-Traveller racism within the force. On this basis, the Irish Traveller Movement believes, based on best international practice, that a policing board should be formed to oversee the practice of An Garda Síochána. Legislation should be developed and enacted—–


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