The Oireachtas committee has heard a number of reports of bias, racism and cultural bias from representatives of LGBT Ireland, the Mental Health Commission, the Irish Traveller Movement and AkiDwA (a national network of migrant women living in Ireland). Among those facing obstacles within the justice system are LGBTQ+ people, people suffering from mental illness and ethnic minorities.
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LGBT Ireland’s Collette O’Regan told the committee that LGBTQ+ people in Ireland do not feel confident approaching the gardaí to report hate crimes.
“They don’t know how gardaí will react,” she explained. “We have anecdotal evidence of negative experiences when reporting these crimes … more training is needed.”
With the mental health crisis disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ individuals, the chief executive of the Mental Health Commission, John Farrelly, also spoke to the committee about concerns for those facing mental health struggles.
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Farrelly referred to a recommendation from as far back as 2009 which says there is a need for a 24/7 statutory social work service that can be accessed by gardaí. This service is needed to facilitate gardaí dealing appropriately with people who are facing a mental health issue. The report that called for this service was a joint effort by the commission and the gardaí.
“Twelve years later and none of these recommendations have come to fruition,” said Farrelly. “At most, we can say that there has been some limited expansion of training for gardaí, but not to the level required.”
It really helps to know that others are feeling the same way. Bringing up potential challenges in a group can help people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.
— National Mental Health Commission (@NMHC) November 23, 2021
The Director of the Irish Traveller Movement, Bernard Joyce, and founder of AkiDwA, Dr Salome Mbugua, also spoke out about a number of issues posed for ethnic minorities, including language barriers, reports of inaccurate translation, racial profiling and challenges securing legal representation as a result of bias within the justice system.
“Cultural competency training is needed,” said Dr Mbugua, “so is unconscious bias training.”
Mr Joyce added that a dedicated free legal aid service is needed for those who cannot access legal representation.
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