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Gardaí felt use of non-Irish actors in recruitment ads aimed at minorities would amount to 'tokenism'

The new campaign ran for three weeks in April at a cost of more than €400,000.

Source: GardaPressOffice/YouTube

CONCERNS WERE RAISED by An Garda Síochána that the inclusion of non-Irish actors in its latest recruitment ads would be seen as “tokenism”, new documents reveal.

Internal Garda correspondence released to TheJournal.ie shows how the head of the force’s communications unit recognised that a lack of minority actors in the ads could potentially have drawn criticism from the Policing Authority, but felt that doing so would not have been representative of the force’s members.

The campaign was launched by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan in April, when a specific call was made for members of minority communities to consider a career with the force.

Ahead of the launch, changes were made to the recruitment process as part of attempts to encourage more diversity within the force.

These included the facilitation of alterations to the garda uniform, and permission for Sikhs to wear turbans and for Muslims to wear hijabs.

The campaign ran across print, radio, online, in cinemas and on TV at a cost of more than €400,000, and also featured on posters in more than 13 languages.

The ads featured individuals in civilian clothing taking part in regular activities beside uniformed gardaí, and targeted individuals who would not have normally considered a career in the force.

It is part of the latest recruitment drive by the Department, which is aiming to increase the number of members of An Garda Siochána from its current number of around 14,000 to 15,000 by 2021.

 Announcing the launch of the campaign, Flanagan said that gardaí served all members of Irish society and that it was important for the force to “reflect the welcome and increasing diversity of Irish life”.

‘Diverse faces in the group’

However, emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show how the Garda’s Director of Communications Andrew McLindon felt that it was important to engage with minorities in an appropriate manner as part of the recruitment drive.

Responding to a query about diversity from the force’s Head of Talent Acquisition Denise Kennedy, he claimed this approach was dictated by feedback provided to his office by minority groups.

“[The ad] looks great, are there diverse faces in the group ethnicity wise?” Kennedy asked, reacting to a preview of the campaign in an email on 26 March.

In response, McLindon said:

Not in the members, as we felt to do so would be seen as tokenism given our low levels of members from minority communities… this comes from feedback from minority groups who don’t want tokenism, but want us to be seen to be engaging with them fairly and appropriately.

McLindon added that he recognised that a lack of minority members in the ad “may draw criticism from some in the [Policing] Authority” but that he was happy to “stand over” the decision.

New Garda Recruits New Garda Recruits (file photo) Source: Rollingnews.ie

Previous correspondence between McLindon and Kennedy also shows that concerns were raised about how the impact of the campaign would be measured.

In an email to Kennedy on 28 February, McLindon asked whether the Garda’s Public Appointments Service would be able to provide information about the demographic background of applicants at the end of the recruitment process.

“I have a slight concern that the impact of the recruitment campaign will be measured by the numbers that apply versus the last campaign – which I don’t think will necessarily show much change,” he wrote.

“The campaign is really about attracting a different kind of candidate.”

Participation in society

Pippa Woolnough, Advocacy Manager with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, explained the importance of having individuals from a diversity of backgrounds in the gardaí, as doing so ensures that non-Irish individuals feel they are participating in Irish society.

“Ireland is becoming an increasingly diverse country, and it’s important for people in figures of authority to look like the people they’re representing from across society,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“It creates a sense of belonging among individuals, and gives people the feeling that they’re inputting, influencing and shaping the society that they live in.”

Garda figures provided to TheJournal.ie show that there were 14,099 serving members at the end of last month, 69 of whom were not from Ireland (including Northern Ireland).

The largest number of non-Irish members came from China (19 gardaí), followed by Britain (18), and Poland (14).

There are also four Latvian gardaí, three members of the force from Romania and Lithuania, while there are two gardaí from the USA.

Other nationalities represented in the force include Croatian, Hungarian, Indian, Nigerian, Russian and South African.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s recruitment drive, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris also iterated a desire for the force to become more diverse.

“We also know that we need to become a much more diverse organisation so that we properly reflect the society we serve… ” Harris said.

“We want to encourage people from all walks of life to join us. We are looking for diversity not only in background, but also in skills.”

Separately, the force is also carrying out research in communities which are under-represented in the gardaí in order to identify what more the organisation needs to do to encourage them to join it.

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