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Policing Authority says relationship between gardaí and students 'significantly deteriorated' in recent months

Students reported being fined for being on a walk within their 5km and having food deliveries stopped and checked for purchases of alcohol.

THE POLICING AUTHORITY has said the relationship between gardaí and some students has “significantly deteriorated” in recent months and is now characterised by feelings of “distrust, harassment and fear”.

In its latest report, the authority said students spoke about feeling “fear and nervousness” around dealing with gardaí in their area.

Students reported to the authority that based on recent experiences with gardaí they were confused about their rights but increasingly reluctant to assert them for fear of being ‘cuffed and fined’.

“Interactions with gardaí were described as premised on an assumption that first and foremost as a student you were up to no good. Those spoken to referenced many examples each, of interactions they believed to be unfair and not based on an accurate interpretation of the restrictions,” the authority said.

“Students were increasingly unlikely to contest fines with gardaí as it was ‘easier to just take the fine’. These included students who were reported as being fined for being on a walk within a 5km radius of home, being told that a walk was not a necessary journey, being turned back from going to a nearby shop for food and negative interactions at checkpoints.

“There were also reports of food deliveries being stopped and searched prior to delivery to check for purchases of alcohol as well as reports that houses were entered to break up gatherings. This is in contrast to the experience heard on other campuses whereby gardaí would wait outside as a house cleared of visitors.”

The Policing Authority said the prevalence of examples given was used to support the contention that all students are now being policed in a manner that assumes they are all breaching the restrictions or that they intend to.

“It was remarked that the 3Es [engage, explain, encourage] had been working for the majority of students but that a sole focus on the 4th E [enforce], while appropriate for those who were breaching the restrictions, was now being applied in a blanket ‘power trip’ fashion,” the authority said.

The students were clear in articulating an understanding of the need for the restrictions and the need to enforce the restrictions. They cited examples of where they had contacted the local gardaí to alert them to impending gatherings. In their view, the calls were not responded to in good time and it meant that the events had escalated significantly by the time the gardaí arrived.

“The long term fear expressed was that ‘students won’t forget’ and that there has been significant damage done to the perception, trust and confidence in the Garda Síochána. This in turn was cited as likely to deter students from reporting crime to the gardaí.”

The authority also reported that those working with migrants – documented and undocumented – made reference to both positive and negative experiences of policing performance, including “a perceived lack of empathy and understanding” experienced by some migrants in their interactions with gardaí in stations.

‘Reporting of domestic abuse’

The report noted that engagements with organisations that work with domestic abuse victims have continued to give positive feedback on garda engagement. 

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“The divisional protective services units, now present in each garda division, are highly regarded as offering an experienced, expert and victim-centred service to those who come forward to report,” the authority said.

“Operation Faoiseamh [the Covid community engagement response] is credited with having encouraged reporting amongst men and women. There is an emerging sense of the strengthened relationships that have developed between the Garda Síochána and the groups and organisations working in this area at a local level, and the opportunities now arising from those relationships.”

Responding to the report, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she welcomed the work gardaí have done in reaching out to domestic abuse victims.

“I acknowledge the very real challenges for Garda members in maintaining that public confidence during this prolonged period of public health restrictions,” she said.

She acknowledged the Policing Authority’s role in assessing where An Garda Síochána “can do better”, referencing the reported negative experiences of some in migrant and student communities.

“However, I have seen how gardaí have constantly addressed the challenges, how they have adapted and how they have been resilient in delivering for the public in the face of risk and uncertainly. I would like to thank the women and men of An Garda Síochána for their continued exemplary public service,” she said.

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