the challenges of cultural diversity
Maciej Makowski, or Matt as most Irish call him, took an unusual route to the Garda.
He had little interest in becoming a police officer when he arrived in Ireland from Poland in the mid-2000s. Then the house he shared with a housemate in Dublin 8 was robbed.
“We came back and saw the place ransacked. It was me who spoke good English so it was me who called the guards.
“Then the thought occurred to me that there might be a need for the guards to speak the language. So that’s really the genesis. It was not planned. I never had the idea of being a policeman.
In 2007 Makowski joined, becoming the first-ever Polish garda, a fact commemorated in a glass plaque presented to him by force in 2019.
Speaking of his time on the force, he has few complaints of racism or discrimination. “It was welcoming and it was chaotic.”
At the time, at a time when around 10% of the country‘s population was born overseas, the Garda decided to launch a recruitment process aimed at encouraging foreign nationals to enlist. To that end, the Irish language requirement was dropped for overseas applicants two years ago.
Instead of being singled out, the new foreign gardaí were treated exactly the same as other members, Makowski recalled, even if that meant ignoring the policing benefits they gave to the force.
“I don’t think there was a plan in place on how to use them. For example, there were certain places where there was a large population of Poles or Russians or Nigerians or whatever.
“In the early years, there didn’t seem to be a plan to put recruits into these areas to use them. People received their stations randomly. There was no special treatment, you were a member of the Garda and that was it.
Makowski was assigned to Blanchardstown Garda Station and a frontline policing role. How did Irish audiences react to the never-before-seen view of a Polish garda on the beat? “Sometimes there were difficulties. There were a few times when I dealt with a Republican element or a budding Republican element and you heard things like, ‘Where the hell are you from? You are just a mercenary.
“But I just laughed at that stuff and it was really marginal.”
During a court appearance where he was to testify in the accusation of a driver, Makowski was considered the defendant: “Basically everyone thought I was the defendant in this case because foreign name,” he recalls.
Makowski graduated as a detective and transferred to the growing Garda Cybercrime Bureau, where he remained until his early retirement in 2019. His decision to leave early has nothing to do with his background , did he declare. Instead, Makowski, like many of his Irish colleagues, was unhappy with the development of the Garda.
“The reality on the ground is that there is too much bureaucracy, too much paperwork, too much toxic surveillance. So there were a lot of different things that pushed me in that direction.
Many other foreign nationals have followed in Makowski’s footsteps since 2007. According to a Garda spokesperson, as the force celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, there are currently members from Belarus, Brazil, Cameroon, China, England, Germany, India, Iran, Italy. , Lithuania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Wales and Zimbabwe.
Former Northern Ireland Police Service officer Paula Hilman had a shorter trip to make when the Belfast native moved south from Garda HQ in Phoenix Park.
Today, Assistant Commissioner Hilman oversees the Garda’s Diversity and Inclusion Unit: “People tell us that when they see someone who looks like them in a police service, it boosts their confidence in the police,” she told the Irish Times. A range of measures have been taken to encourage minority recruitment, including a change to the Garda’s uniform policy to allow members to wear religious headgear such as hijabs or turbans.
Diversity is not just a virtue in itself. It also brings additional benefits, says Hilman. “It brings with it stronger decision-making, challenges traditional thinking and it builds stronger teams.”
But change comes slowly. Foreign nationals make up about 13% of the population. Their representation in the Garda is much weaker.
Just how inferior is something of a mystery. Although the Garda is able to provide a general overview of the countries of origin of its members, it cannot say what percentage were born overseas.
Similarly, there are no figures on the number of gardaí from a traveling background. It is understood that there are currently a small number of gardaí travellers, but hard data simply does not exist.
“An Garda Síochána has no statutory authority to collect data based on ethnicity. This is not just an issue related solely to An Garda Síochána, but a broader public policy issue,” a spokesperson said.
Indeed, anyone who has attended a swoon ceremony at Templemore recently – where freshly attested gardaí parade past proud family members – will realize that the majority of gardaí still come from a narrow sector of society, c i.e. middle class, straight, white. males.
People tend to talk about diversity only in the context of ethnicity, says Bob Collins, chairman of the Policing Authority. “Whereas there is a whole range of diversities which are not sufficiently reflected in An Garda Síochána or even in many aspects of Irish institutional life.
“The unsaid is class. And there is an element of geography, especially urban geography,” he says. “A lot has been done but there is still a lot to do. People need to see themselves reflected.
Recruitment campaigns and uniform changes are unlikely to count if the Garda is seen as an inherently discriminatory organisation. In 2020, Inspector David McInerney, formerly of the Garda Ethnic Liaison Office, published a startling study into race relations within the force.
Almost a third of gardaí surveyed, as part of McInerney’s doctoral research on the Ethnic Liaison Program, expressed a negative view of black Africans while a similar proportion had a negative view of Arabs.
Even more worrying was the fact that none of the frontline guards interviewed expressed a positive view of members of the traveling community.
In response, Garda headquarters pointed out that the research had been carried out at least six years previously and that many improvements had been made since then, including an overhaul and expansion of the minority outreach system.
But it can be difficult to assess the effectiveness of these measures, for the same reason it is difficult to assess diversity within the force itself – the data does not exist and gardaí are not authorized to collect them.
The police authority recently sought figures detailing the Garda’s ‘stop and search’ tactics and the ethnicity of those arrested.
“We would be naïve and delude ourselves if we thought that Ireland was completely outlier in this respect, and that there was a precisely proportional representation of the whole population among those stopped and searched,” Collins said. to a police authority. meeting last year.
“We currently have no authority under the legislative framework to collate these figures. So, in the absence of these, we do not have the readily available information that would be available to other police services. “, Hilman told the Irish Times. Changing that is the business of the Oireachtas, she added.
The challenges of policing in a diverse Ireland are constantly changing. Providing a policing service to those who arrived in Ireland with Makowski in the early 2000s requires a different approach than providing a service to their now adult sons and daughters.
“It’s a constant challenge,” says Pat Leahy, former deputy commissioner for the Dublin region. “The New Irish were a bit like us when they went overseas, they kind of accepted whatever they found. But second and third generation, they don’t think like that, and neither should they.
“Their expectations are much higher. Which means that the service delivery must also be much higher. There is quite a steep learning curve for everyone.
These challenges were highlighted by the death of George Nkencho, a young black man of Igbo ethnicity in Nigeria, who was shot dead by gardaí outside his north Dublin home in December 2020.
Nkencho was wielding a knife at the time and suffered from mental health issues. An investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and a repeatedly delayed investigation will determine whether the gardaí followed proper procedures, but at this stage there does not appear to be a racial element to the shooting.
Nkencho’s family also suffered racist abuse in the months following his death and were eventually forced to relocate.
The response, Hilman said, was to deploy additional training for gardaí in the Blanchardstown area “to focus on local policing issues in that area.”
A lot of that work is just “listening to what communities are telling us,” she said, “especially what second-generation young black men are saying about their relationship with [the Garda] East”.
“The relationship [between gardaí and the black Irish community] can be improved,” said Obi Odemena, leader of the Dublin Igbo Union. The Nkencho shooting exposed fractures in that relationship rather than caused them.
Since then, the gardaí have been more attentive in their dealings with the African community, he said. “But when something is institutionalized, it takes a while for that culture change to happen.”