Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has apologized to people and communities forcibly abandoned since its inception a century ago.
Speaking at an event to mark the anniversary of the founding of An Garda Síochána, Mr Harris said while there was much to celebrate, its shortcomings also needed to be acknowledged.
“We also need to reflect tonight on the times when we failed to live up to our own high standards,” he told the meeting at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, the site of the initial meeting which led to the creation of force.
“The evolution of our organization over the past century has not been without challenges. As in any human endeavour, we have encountered many challenges throughout our history,” he said.
“There have been times when we have let individuals and communities down. Times when we should have done more and should have done better. For all those times, I want to apologize to those we failed.
Addressing the broad arc of the police force’s history, Mr Harris noted that in the last recruitment round, 11,000 people applied to join its ranks – not far off the force’s 14,000 strength. Among these candidates, about 40% were women.
“And there has been an increase in the number of applications from various ethnic backgrounds. We are passionate about delivering a police service that represents every community and so that is a positive indication.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee also highlighted the growing involvement of women in the force at all levels – noting the participation of former Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and former Justice Minister Nora Owen at the ceremony of Tuesday evening.
“While always serving our people, it has been absolutely vital that An Garda Síochána has evolved over the years and become a reflection of the society it represents,” she said. .
“I would like to highlight in particular the contribution made by the female members of An Garda Síochána and in particular since the first 12 female recruits joined in 1959.”
Ms McEntee said she recalled some inappropriate discussions in the Dáil at the time, when it was felt the female gardaí “couldn’t be too beautiful”.
“We have certainly evolved since then. Because of this changing environment and the fantastic women who have preceded so many here tonight, we have seen an increasing number of women choosing An Garda Síochána as a career.
She noted how the warm relationship between the gardaí and the public at the community level was the envy of other forces.
“Our local gardaí are the people we turn to, often in the most difficult times. But they are also the people who often give us the hardest news,” she said.
“I think of my own father’s death and I think of the wonderful people who came to my house at the time.”
Tuesday’s event marked the centenary of the inaugural meeting of the Police Organizing Committee to establish An Garda Síochána in place of the predecessor Royal Irish Constabulary.
The secret gathering took place at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin’s North City Center on February 9, 1922, presided over by Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government of Ireland.