Travellers racially abused by gardaí and treated like ‘lowest of the low’, according to report

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Ellen Coyne

Travellers have been called k****ers by gardaí and dismissed while trying to report crimes, research into the institutional racism against Travellers in Ireland’s criminal justice system has found.

A landmark study from the University of Limerick, which surveyed one in every 100 Travellers in Ireland, found that more than a third have no trust in gardaí while more than 30pc have no trust in the courts.

Travellers reported believing gardaí thought they were “the lowest of the low”, and being racially profiled.

The research is the first to document Travellers’ experiences of the criminal justice system in Ireland. The 18-month project included a survey of more than 300 Travellers, 29 interviewees from Traveller organisations and two focus groups.

Half of the Travellers who responded had been victims of crime in the previous five years, and one-fifth had been arrested in that period.

While more than 70pc of the general population believe gardaí treat everyone fairly regardless of who they are, more than 80pc of Travellers surveyed disagreed.

Almost 90pc of those surveyed believed gardaí are more strict when dealing with Travellers compared to settled people.

One Traveller recalled how gardaí would call the people and their community “dirty k****ers”, while another said gardaí had told them they were “k****ers, cream crackers. That’s who ye are”.

Another told researchers his community was “the lowest of the lowest to the guards”. “So you feel you kind of have to keep your mouth shut… you feel you have to let them away with things,” they said.

One person described how they felt gardaí were using “k****er” against them to provoke a reaction. “I get upset so everything they said about me – the loud, arrogant, ignorant, unruly Traveller – is there in front of them… so they use this powerful tool by using this awful word that they see as a tool against me and other Travellers to get a reaction to prove that they were right all along,” they said.

Of those surveyed, 45pc had been the victim of at least one crime in the previous five years. However, only a third reported it to gardaí. Of those who did, the majority said they believed gardaí did not take their case seriously.

Some Travellers told researchers their experiences of being stopped and searched had been their worst encounters with gardaí in the last five years.

Almost 60pc of those who had been stopped believed they had been racially profiled – stopped because they were a Traveller – with a number saying the garda who stopped them had a reputation for targeting Travellers.

Less than 60pc of those who were stopped said the garda had explained the reason.

Travellers believed gardaí were slow or unwilling to investigate crimes between them and other Travellers. One Traveller said they had tried to report a crime between two families, “and the guards specifically said, ‘once you keep it on the k****er site, we don’t care’”.

Some reported gardaí not taking statements from victims, or failing to follow up on or investigate reports.

The research also found that a fear of or lack of trust in gardaí was having an effect on domestic abuse survivors in the Travelling community. Some victims were afraid to go to the gardaí because they believed the authorities would be more interested in trying to find other crimes on halting sites.

“You could be killed in your own home. It could be a domestic violence sufferer, and you’re afraid to go to the guards now because maybe your son has no tax on his car,” a member of a Traveller organisation said.

Women feared reporting domestic abuse and being judged by their community for “drawing” the guards on them.

Travellers who reported positive experiences with gardaí often credited community gardaí who devoted time and effort to outreach programmes. “A positive experience with one individual, being for most respondents the exception rather than the rule, did not alter respondents’ perceptions of the institution as a whole,” the study said.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said the force could not comment on unpublished reports, but that it had “developed a good relationship with the Traveller Community and its representative bodies”.

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