UBUNTU Project finds that dialogue can build understanding between Gardaí and young Black adults

Thursday, March 23, 2023 - 11:00

There is an urgent need to invest time in building understanding and improving relationships between An Garda Síochána and minority ethnic communities. It seems probable that fresh methods of police-community engagement are needed to achieve these goals. This release summarises the key findings from the first Irish project to use restorative practices to co-design and co-facilitate a dialogue process between Gardaí and young Black adults. This took place in September 2022 in Blanchardstown, Dublin, where George Nkencho was shot and killed almost two years prior.
The findings demonstrate the viability of restorative practices to enable young Black adults and Gardaí to participate in structured, open and safe dialogue which directly addresses the relationship between them. Observations and interview data suggest that the dialogue process helped its participants better understand each other’s experiences and perspectives, building relationships and empathy as a result. This aligns with the findings emerging from similar, evaluated projects in other countries.
The evidence suggests that, if developed at scale, dialogue could improve police-community relations. Although this will require a substantial collaboration between communities, civil society and An Garda Síochána, the potential benefits of replicating this work considerably outweigh the costs.
Finding 1: Restorative circles can effectively facilitate dialogue – our findings suggest that core features of the restorative process enabled dialogue to take place. These included starting with extensive trust-building work, before moving to more challenging discussions about diversity, difference and policing, and the use of restorative circles and talking pieces. The co-design and co-facilitation models ensured that participants were represented at every stage of the process and that the process was sensitive to participants’ needs. The dialogue process enabled participants to share experiences, perspectives and emotions, and to speak openly and listen respectfully. The guidelines were followed throughout.
Finding 2: Dialogue helped participants understand each other’s lives and experiences – we found that the dialogue process permitted a variety of conversations about trivial (e.g. sports, family) and serious (e.g. policing, stereotyping) subjects. It helped foster reflections on similarities and differences in ways that educated, revealed the sources of contrasting viewpoints, and illuminated a common humanity. For example, the Gardaí better understood the impact of criminal records and searches on young Black adults’ lives and perspectives of police, while the young Black adults better understood Garda training, culture, rationales and powers.
Finding 3: Understanding might support local relationships, attitude and behaviour change – we found that it was relatively straightforward to build relationships between participants, that these continued after the dialogue, and that its humanising effect improved participants’ attitudes towards each other. We also found some evidence of reported behavioural changes in relation to proactively engaging the Black community and increasing non-adversarial contacts, and a cascading effect whereby participants told others about their positive experiences.
Finding 4: Education is needed on structural challenges – we found that a gap remained in participants’ understanding of the structural and institutional nature of the challenges ahead. Future dialogues may need to incorporate educational aspects which speak to the dynamics of the relationship between the Black community and the police.
For more information, please contact Dr. Ian Marder on ian.marder@mu.ie.
Note to editors: background to the UBUNTU Project and research methodology
The UBUNTU Project aimed to explore the extent to which restorative practices (RP) could be used to facilitate dialogue and build understanding between young Black adults living in Blanchardstown and Gardaí working in Blanchardstown. The objectives of the project were:

  1. to train a locally-based group of young Black adults and Gardaí in restorative practices;
  2. to work with these persons to co-design and co-facilitate a dialogue process using restorative practices, and involving additional, locally-based young Black adults and Gardaí; and,
  3. to research this project by observing the preparation meetings, training and dialogue process, and interviewing project participants, partners and stakeholders.

The questions guiding the research under the third objective were:

  1. How did participants experience the project’s organisation, training and dialogue process?
  2. To what extent did the project enable dialogue and build understanding between participating young Black adults and Gardaí?
  3. What are the implications for the intercultural competencies of An Garda Síochána and efforts to improve relationships between the police and diverse communities more broadly?

The Irish Research Council (New Foundations) mainly funded the UBUNTU Project. An Garda Síochána and Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology provided additional resources for venue hire and workshop materials, respectively. The UBUNTU Project was a partnership between:

  • Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology (Ian Marder, Katharina Kurz)
  • An Garda Síochána (Paula Hilman, Rose Sweeney, Finbarr Murphy, Peter Burke, Rory Carey)
  • Sport Against Racism Ireland (Ken McCue)
  • Insaka-Ireland All Africa Youth Movement (Mutale Kanyanta)
  • Childhood Development Initiative (Claire Casey, Foluke Oladosu, Kieran O’Dwyer)

Further support for this project was provided by Foróige Blanchardstown Youth Service (Miriam Ryan, Naomi Basdeo), Parslickstown House (Derek Keegan) and Black and Irish (Eric Ehigie).
Phase 1 (December 2021-June 2022) involved beginning the project, identifying and preparing people to participate in the three days of restorative practices training (six Gardaí and five young Black adults), and delivering that training in May and June. The trained group helped co-design the dialogue process. Two trainees (one Garda and one young Black adult) volunteered to co-facilitate the dialogue.
Phase 2 (June 2022-September 2022) involved finalising the dialogue script, identifying and preparing a mixed group of persons (six Gardaí and six young Black adults) to participate in the dialogue process, and co-facilitating the dialogue process with the trainees over two days in September.
Phase 3 (September 2022-December 2022) involved interviews with 26 of the 32 project partners and training or dialogue participants who were invited to be interviewed, spread evenly across the groups. The dataset also included 54 hours of observations, conducted across Phases 1 and 2. These data were analysed for the purpose of assessing the project’s impact and identifying findings to disseminate.
Please see here for a press release with quotes from project partners immediately after the dialogue.
Please see here for an article on RTÉ published immediately after the dialogue.
For a pre-print version of an academic article outlining the dialogue script, see here.
For coverage of the project in the Irish Examiner following the dialogue, please see here.