Limerick researchers reveal study on travelers and the justice system

LIMERICK-based researchers have broken new ground by examining the relationship between Travelers and the Irish criminal justice system for the first time.

The research documents for the first time Travelers’ perceptions and experiences of the criminal justice process in Ireland, in particular with the court system and An Garda Síochána.

The University of Limerick research team’s Irish Travellers’ Access to Justice (ITAJ) report was officially launched on Thursday 23rd June.

Research reveals Travelers’ confidence in the Irish criminal justice system is extremely low.

Professor Amanda Haynes, Department of Sociology, UL, said: “To be able to use the legal process to protect your rights, you must first trust this system enough to engage in it.”

Over the 18 months of the study, UL researchers spoke with one in 100 travelers to Ireland in 25 of the 26 counties.

The research findings reflect the need for radical changes in the way criminal justice institutions interact with, perceive and address Travellers.

It highlights fears of wrongful arrests, excessive use of force, wrongful convictions, disproportionate sentences and wrongful imprisonment as key convers in the homeless community.

The study found that Travelers’ level of trust in the gardaí is about half that of the general population.

Dr. Sindy Joyce, associate professor of traveler studies in UL’s sociology department, said she was “not surprised” by the research results.

She pointed out that Travelers’ experiences and perceptions of the criminal justice process are unequivocally linked to their identity as a “traditionally nomadic community”.

Based on the findings, the research makes many evidence-based recommendations.

The introduction of an ethnic identifier throughout the criminal process, from reporting to sentencing, as well as a criminal justice strategy for the Traveler community.

He also called for the creation of an independent complaints body with no ties to criminal justice agencies.

Sinead Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, concluded:

“This report needs to be read and widely shared and used as the evidence base for reforms, to make our criminal justice system accessible to all.”