Travellers' trust in the Irish criminal justice system is "extremely low" amid fears of wrongful arrest and excessive use of force, according to new research.
The Irish Travellers' Access to Justice (ITAJ) report documents Travellers' perceptions of criminal justice institutions.
Researchers at the University of Limerick spoke to one in every 100 Travellers in Ireland for the study, which was funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish Research Council under the COALESCE programme.
The authors of the report say it reflects a "need for radical change" in how criminal justice institutions engage with Travellers.
Researchers found that Travellers were simultaneously "over policed as suspects and under policed as victims".
Travellers reported hearing expressions of overt racism by gardaí and judges and also recounted experiences of garda harassment and provocation.
Half of respondents said they were victims of criminal offences in the five years leading up to the study.
Half of those surveyed said they had been present at a home that gardaí entered without permission.
When comparing Garda Public Attitudes Survey 2019 findings to those of the ITAJ survey with Travellers, 71% of the general population agreed with the statement "the gardaí in this area treat everyone fairly regardless of who they are", while 84% of Travellers disagree.
Professor Jennifer Schweppe at UL's School of Law said there was evidence of "significant human rights concerns" within the criminal process with respect to Travellers.
"Justice is not seen to be done in Irish courtrooms by members of the Traveller community," she said.
Dr Sindy Joyce, Lecturer in Traveller Studies in UL's Department of Sociology, said: "The results of this research will come as no surprise to members of the Traveller community, whose experiences and perceptions of the criminal justice process are unequivocally linked to both their identity as a historically traditionally nomadic community, and their present day status as a racialised indigenous ethnic group in Irish society."
IHREC Chief Commissioner Sinead Gibney said it is "abundantly clear" that the relationship between Travellers and criminal justice too often starts from a point of mistrust which has developed over decades.
Professor Amanda Haynes, Department of Sociology at UL said: "This report shows that Travellers do not trust the Irish criminal justice system to treat them fairly, and that their mistrust in grounded in personal and shared experiences of unsatisfactory and sometimes biased treatment at the hands of criminal justice professionals, as victims and suspects."
Drawing on the findings, the research makes "extensive evidence-based recommendations", including the introduction of an ethnic identifier throughout the criminal process from the point of reporting to the point of sentencing.
This includes a commitment to make the resultant data available to independent researchers.
Researchers also seek the publication of an annual report on ethnic minorities in the criminal process, as well as a criminal justice strategy for the Traveller community and an independent complaints body.
The Department of Justice said the report raises a number of important issues to be considered.
It said while it is clear there is more work to be done, significant work is under way across the justice sector to foster better relationships with the Travelling community.
Gardaí have 'more work to do'
An Garda Síochána said it is clear that gardaí "have more work to do" to build and maintain trust with the Traveller community.
It said it will study the report and put in place a number of actions to address the lack of trust.
Gardaí said they were "committed to providing a human-rights focused policing service that protects the rights of all people we come into contact with".
"An Garda Síochána has developed a good relationship with the Traveller Community and its representative bodies," it said.
The service pointed to the establishment of a Garda Traveller Advisory Group, Garda-Traveller Dialogue Days, and Traveller representative groups assisting in providing training for garda recruits and garda members.
It added that more than 1,000 personnel qualified from a policing and human rights course at UL
"We also worked closely with Traveller representative bodies during Covid-19 to provide regular advice to the Traveller Community on the public health measures and regulations," it added.
There are currently 358 garda diversity officers working in each garda division nationwide and who work to "assist every community they serve including the Traveller community".
Gardaí will also broadcast social media videos based on the research which will be produced with the UL research team.
It said it could not comment on individual actions but said any member of the Traveller community who is not happy with how they have been treated by gardaí is encouraged to complain to An Garda Síochána or the independent GSOC.
However, it said there was "no concrete data available" to support the contention of ethnic profiling by gardaí, given that there was no legal basis for the collection of ethnic identifiers during garda operations.
"An Garda Síochána is in favour of being able to collect such data and has explored this issue," it said.
"However, our legal advice is that legislation is required for any State body to collect such data. We have been liaising with the Department of Justice on this matter," it added.