Growing up in a small town in the west of Ireland, we rarely had anyone in our immediate group of friends talk about their aspirations to become a garda. It wasn’t something we imagined we could do, and there was an element of feeling sold if either of us did it.
It’s just the reality of growing up in a working-class housing estate, and doubly as a member of the Irish traveling community.
There has always been this ‘us and them’ mentality, and I’m sure the local gardaí were no different. Where does this divide come from? Is it because the crime is sometimes committed by people from working-class neighborhoods, which means that the local gardaí only have relationships with local communities when it comes to crime?
From the perspective of the vast majority of working class people and Travelers who have not committed a crime, this was not their opinion. We grew up seeing countless politicians get away with financial crimes, and later bankers who walked away from the chaos with no blemish on their record.
It was a moment before An Garda Siochána left to enter more into the community. So it’s fair to assume that working class people only had to deal with the gardaí when there was a problem, and the gardaí rarely had to deal with working class and Travelers that didn’t involve the followed by a criminal problem.
From the outset, the two groups of people were stacked against each other by virtue of their positioning in the community. This is not to say that working class people and Travelers did not become gardaí; some have. However, they were and are in the minority in most cases.
At 37, I have yet to meet a colored garda or a garda who was not a national. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means there aren’t enough of them.
Enter the ELOs, and no, it’s not a group from 1970s Birmingham. The Ethnic Liaison Officers are a division of An Garda Síochána (AGS) that deal with issues involving people from a minority background . Community Liaison Officers are also among the unrecognized members of the force who do a remarkable job.
The AGS decided that the best way to control a community was to get involved in the community. My local detective gives up his free time to train young boys how to hurl, accompanying them to games and getting to know them. A detective has made sure child travelers are included everywhere.
This is the type of initiative that works over the long term. Having that personal connection to the next generation breaks down invisible barriers that have existed for decades. Children are less likely to become involved in crime and more likely to become members of the gardaí if they have positive role models who are willing to give them a chance.
Of course, poverty and social problems will always exist, and with them, crime. However, the best tool for policing is intelligence gathering and community cooperation – what better way to do that than to be visible in the community while being friendly and approachable?
Recently on an episode of Claire Byrne Live, a young traveler from Galway spoke about his experience applying for An Garda Siochána. He was participating in a program to offer internships to people from diverse backgrounds. An initiative like this is amazing because it allows people to experience garda life for a while. The intention of most at the end of the program is therefore to become a recruit.
This young man failed the extensive background check and spoke about the fact that he himself had no criminal record or any marks against him in the PULSE database. However, these background checks not only look at the applicant’s record, but also their family.
Given that the Traveler community is a small, connected group, it seems unfair to deny a young man the opportunity to make real and meaningful change because of another person’s actions. However, the rational part of my brain tells me that without these thorough background checks, it is likely that criminal enterprises could bribe a garda linked to them.
It makes sense and the safety of society is paramount. A solution to this does not appear to be forthcoming and would require a massive change to security protocols within garda recruitment.
There is good news on the recruiting front. As reported last week, the latest recruitment campaign for AGS shows that the number of applications from diverse backgrounds has increased compared to the last recruitment campaign of 2019.
Asian/Asian-Irish applicants increased from 75 to 388, Black/Black Irish applicants increased from 31 to 155 and Irish Travelers saw applications increase from 14 to 44. These numbers are low considering the number total number of applications; some 11,075 people applied this year, compared to 5,197 in 2019.
Unfortunately, this recruitment campaign will only see 800 new gardaí offered a position, which does not change much in terms of active staff given that in March 2022 there were 417 less gardaí than at this time. dated two years earlier.
The interest is there, however, and the willingness to join the force is growing, I just hope the increased interest from various backgrounds will translate into increased job openings for the same.