Yesterday (June 4th) I spoke during Questions to the Minister for Justice.
I believe that for An Garda Síochána to be effective, it needs to reflect and represent the communities it policies, and I asked the Minister for statistics on diversity within An Garda Síochána, as well as plans to improve diversity.
You can read my full contribution below, or watch a clip of it here.
Roderic O’Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party):
I was pleased to hear the Minister specifically reference the work of gardaí in Blanchardstown during the Covid-19 crisis. I would also like to pay tribute to them, particularly the support they have given to voluntary and sporting groups in the area in the context of Fingal’s Community Call scheme.
Under the current regulations, recruitment to An Garda Síochána is limited to those of 35 years or younger and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has recommended that this age bar be scrapped. The Minister responded to a parliamentary question I put down recently by stating that the age barrier is being considered as part of a broader review of the entry into and recruitment to the Garda. Will the Minister provide more detail about this, particularly who it is envisaged will sit on this working group and what is the expected timeline for its commencement, for its work to take place and for any changes to be made to the age barrier?
In the United States this week, we saw and we are seeing what happens when a police force systemically fails to represent the communities it polices. Within the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, it was stated very clearly that the idea of community policing has to be the policing model that Ireland adopts. It is vital the Garda reflects the very diverse communities in which it operates. I know this is something the Minister has acknowledged and it is also acknowledged by the commission’s report. The Garda diversity and integration strategy, which was published last year, commits to the identification of barriers to recruiting and retaining people from diverse and minority backgrounds as Garda members, Garda staff and Garda reserves, and to work to mitigate or remove these barriers. Will the Minister give us statistics on the number of officers from diverse and minority backgrounds who are currently serving in the Garda? Will he outline what work is being done right now to implement that goal from the diversity and integration strategy? Will this work form part of the broader review of entry into the Garda to which I referred earlier?
Minister for Justice, Charles Flanagan:
I thank Deputies Costello and O’Gorman for their contributions and questions. Deputy Costello indicated he might opt for a reply in writing in order to give me the opportunity to reply to Deputy O’Gorman, and I acknowledge his generosity in that regard. I agree with the points raised by Deputy Costello and would be happy to commit to a detailed reply in writing.
I acknowledge what Deputy O’Gorman has said with particular reference to the expert review group on recruit education and entry pathways into An Garda Síochána. That, of course, is a key action under A Policing Service for the Future plan.
An Garda Síochána hopes to form that group very shortly. I would be happy to engage further with the Deputy on the make-up of the group. I invite any suggestions or observations he might have. I would be very happy to feed them along the line because I think that is important.
I agree about the age barrier. It is one of a number of recommendations under the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, all of which are part of the implementation plan, the implementation group of which is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach. This group meets regularly. The challenge of engagement in recent weeks has resulted in the initial deadlines not being absolutely met. I would have preferred at this stage in the early summer of 2020 to be introducing the legislation. I am not in a position to do so, but I assure the House that work is ongoing in my Department. I anticipate the legislation would be ready for publication in autumn of this year and then be subject to the appropriate level of debate.
On Garda recruitment and diversity, I assure all Deputies, as this issue was also raised by Deputy Martin Kenny tonight, and not for the first time, that under the current Garda Commissioner there has been specific, active engagement on his part to broaden the composition of An Garda Síochána to reflect society. This involves active engagement of a new nature, for example, in visits of members of An Garda Síochána to schools, through direct liaison and engagement with careers guidance officers, and with active engagement by the distribution of information leaflets in different languages. A recent advertisement for Garda recruitment was placed in Arabic, which I very much welcome. I feel that these are issues on which Deputy O’Gorman would like to see a greater level of progress. I will give the Deputy figures on composition. I know from my own knowledge that at the last two Garda attestation ceremonies in the Garda Training College in Templemore there were a large number of international flags across the college courtyard denoting and highlighting the countries of origin of the graduates on those occasions, including Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Australia, the UK and further afield. I am happy to obtain an actual breakdown of the composition from the Garda Commissioner at an early date.
I must also acknowledge the language skills within An Garda Síochána. This helps engagement to take place at a very intense level within communities. The migrant integration strategy, under the direction of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, commits all public bodies, including An Garda Síochána, to the type of engagement that means communities are well represented among the Garda and that we can continue to engage in the type of community policing that differentiates, as I said earlier, the Garda Síochána from most police services throughout the world. This is very much a theme of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I am happy to engage further on that. I have visited Blanchardstown Garda station, which is in Deputy O’Gorman’s constituency. I also had the opportunity of viewing the highly entertaining and very informing TV series recently, which brought out the best of An Garda Síochána, with regard to the work its members do in communities and in protecting us all from harm daily and nightly.