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8th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference
22 June 2022
I’m delighted to be here in the Printworks to open the 8th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies conference, which has a particularly high calibre of speakers this year.
Today’s theme of ‘Race, Migration and the Criminal Justice System’ has, of course, been brought into sharp focus in recent months following the invasion of Ukraine.
Over the past four months, the mass displacement of people across Europe has concentrated minds and deepened our resolve to help.
That’s certainly the case in my Department, and the wider agencies, where colleagues have been working tirelessly and selflessly, displaying resilience, commitment, compassion and, most of all, leadership in this ever-changing situation.
Already, the Irish people have afforded a warm welcome to more than 36,000 people.
It has been genuinely inspiring.
It is proof that Ireland will play its full part in providing safe refuge for as long as it is needed.
Immigration officers are often the first authorities that people come into contact with when they arrive.
At Dublin Airport, staff from the Border Management Unit of the Department have responded with their characteristic humanity, compassion and ‘can do’ attitude - providing food, toiletries, clothing and other essentials to those arriving in the earliest days while the State rapidly readied our national response.
Similar efforts are being made at all other ports of entry and I want to acknowledge the teams involved in ongoing humanitarian operations there, including the Garda National Immigration Bureau officers.
As well as being the human face of the State’s immigration controls, an immigration officer also performs important tasks to protect our borders and the security of the State.
In accordance with the law, an immigration officer must determine whether a non-EEA national should be granted leave to land and entry to the State.
There is a statutory obligation to return a person refused entry permission as soon as is practicable
Detaining people is avoided where possible and non-custodial measures are widely used as alternatives to detention.
If arrangements can’t be made to return a person that day, or the next, a number of considerations will influence a detention decision including -
- the level of risk of absconding,
- the threat posed to public security, and
- efforts made by the person to establish their identity.
We are, of course, also mindful that some will view the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to deceive and exploit vulnerable people.
Staff have been trained on issues of vulnerability, including with regard to detecting if a person may be a victim of trafficking or in need of International Protection.
People in these categories, regardless of where they came from, will not be returned or detained.
We are united in our commitment to supporting victims of human trafficking, and to prosecuting those who take advantage.
In relation to this, there are two areas of progress in particular I want to highlight.
The first is the approval by Government last year to revise the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) so as to improve our capacity to identify and support victims of human trafficking.
Under the revised mechanism State and civil society will co-operate, identify and share information about potential victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support.
Currently, when suspected victims of human trafficking are encountered by, or referred to, An Garda Síochána, they are then provided with a wide range of services by both the Government and NGOs through the NRM.
Many victims – for very understandable reasons –approaching the police may not be something they are comfortable with and so we need more routes into the NRM.
While officials within my Department are currently drafting the heads of a bill to put the NRM framework on a legislative footing, I understand that this development has already resulted in improved engagement and cooperation between all relevant stakeholders and is making a real difference on the ground.
The second area of work to highlight is the development of a new National Action Plan on human trafficking.
My Department is now engaged with a working group to draft the National Action Plan high-level goals and outcomes.
Following a further round of stakeholder consultations the plan will be finalised and submitted to Government for approval in Q3 2022.
And we are confident that the victim-centred policy approach being taken will encourage more victims to come forward which will, in turn, strengthen prosecutions and convictions.
Having that confidence to engage with our justice system is hugely important.
Both the Government and the Garda Commissioner are committed to increasing diversity within An Garda Síochána and ensuring all communities can see themselves reflected in our police service.
An Garda Síochána have demonstrated this in recent years through the foundation of the Garda National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU), the publication of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy, and through a concentrated effort to encourage minorities to apply for roles.
Until this year, people applying were required to have proven proficiency in two languages in order to join the Gardaí – one of which had to be English or Irish.
That has changed, and candidates now only need to have one of these languages.
We know there are under-represented groups who are much less likely to have studied these two languages, so this takes away another barrier to entry.
The most recent competition, which closed in March, received 11,075 applications.
This was up from 5,197 from the last competition in 2019.
And I’m encouraged to note there was a significant increase in numbers applying across a range of ethnic backgrounds.
Bias, inequality and racism have no place in our societies and in our criminal justice system.
I very much welcome the recent work of the Irish Penal Reform Trust in their report entitled ‘Sometimes I'm Missing the Words’ - The rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system report.
This frank report makes 18 recommendations which are currently being examined with a view to informing future practice and operations.
While a range of equality, diversity and integration measures are in place across key criminal justice sector bodies including An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, these important initiatives are kept under review.
We know, for example, that members of the Travelling community are significantly over represented in both the prison population and in clients engaging with the Probation service
It imperative that we adjust to meet the needs of this group in order to support Travellers in their rehabilitation and reintegration back into society.
A lot of work has and is being done.
For example the Prison Service, in partnership with the Travellers in Prison Initiative, St. Stephen’s Green Trust and the Probation Service is making available targeted and culturally sensitive education programmes.
To improve uptake they are identifying traveller liaison teachers, adapting education services and training staff on issues arising for Travellers
They are also working with individuals to identify and address barriers to their participation and presenting the benefits of engaging.
Another initiative is the new Equine Centre at Castlerea Prison - believed to be the first of its kind in a correctional facility in the EU.
A key objective is to provide offenders with practical skills while also teaching compassion through the care of a living animal.
The equine programme is open to all prisoners, and the course content is designed for those with low literary level making it accessible to all.
The difficulties and complexities faced by migrant communities and ethnic minorities are specifically considered in the work being done to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Minister McEntee is leading work on a new whole of strategy to tackle these horrendous crimes. The overall goal is of zero tolerance in our society of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
The strategy and accompanying action plan is being finalised for submission to Government shortly.
I know the strategy will recognise the vulnerabilities and lived experiences of particular victims and survivors, including migrant women. It recognised that an intersectional approach to DSGBV has to be taken so that we can ensure the right supports, services and messaging are in place to meet the needs of all groups.
Having looked at the packed schedule for today’s conference, there is a wide array of interesting topics – both from your speakers and for the thematic sessions – which I have no doubt will produce insightful discussion and debate.
Among the topics I wanted to briefly touch on is the increasing attention paid at EU level to the threat from Violent Right Wing Extremism.
Assessments of the phenomenon reference the often fragmented and leaderless nature of the threat as well as differences in terms of membership, structure and ideologies.
These range from, ‘anti-minority ideologies’ to alt-right, accelerationists and neo-nazis, eco-fascism. Right wing extremist conspiracy movements such as QAnon have also struck a chord in the EU.
Some EU Member States have seen an increase in the threat.
Here in Ireland, while violent right wing extremism has not featured significantly, we recognise that we are not immune from this threat.
An Garda Síochána engages with many stakeholders to monitor relevant trends nationally and internationally.
There will be a role here too for the new hate crime legislation being worked on by my Department, and I will finish on this point.
This Government is fully committed to fighting racism, prejudice and bigotry in all its forms.
Hate crimes are signal crimes. They say to a victim that they are not safe simply because of who they are.
The Department of Justice’s vision is of a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland. An inclusive Ireland is one where crimes motivated by prejudice, hate or bigotry are not tolerated.
The new Hate Crime Bill will strengthen the law around hate crime by creating new, aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic.
The protected characteristics set out in the General Scheme include; race; colour; nationality; religion, ethnic or national origin; sexual orientation; gender; or disability.
Hate crimes try to make a person feel lesser because of who they are, which of course is never true and is completely unacceptable in Ireland, in our criminal justice system, or anywhere.