Systemic Change: Policing Dialogue

Dialogue with Young People, Youth Workers and Gardai in North Inner-City Dublin

This video describes CAN’s work in promoting understanding between Dublin Youth and An Garda Siochána. Produced for CAN by VM Digital.

This initiative has its origins in a Dialogue which CAN facilitated for community activists from the North Inner-City Dublin. These “Elders” were invited to revisit their experience of activism over a forty-year period, using their learning to inform current and future practice. Many stories were extracted from the experience and recorded in a film called Rekindling the Magic produced and directed by CAN:

Following the success of the film, CAN facilitated community conversations using the participative method, World Café. This enabled local people to discuss matters that were important to them. A key theme that emerged was the ongoing deterioration of relationships between young people and Gardaí. It coincided with a request from the NEIC (Northeast Inner-City) ’Tackling Crime and Drugs’ subgroup for CAN to develop a Dialogue process that would promote more positive relationships between young people and the Gardaí in the Northeast Inner-City Dublin.  The objective was always ambitious, because mistrust is deep-rooted between both parties and a long-term strategy would be needed.

The Process

CAN established a steering group with members from Gardaí and Youth Projects to oversee the programme. We realised that there was preparatory work needed to enable young people and Gardaí to sit together in Dialogue.  We worked with each group separately first: 

  • Young People – There wasn’t an obvious cohort to engage, so we gathered young people from different youth projects to establish a group. We then created a safe space for them to speak about their experience of the Gardaí.  
  • Gardaí – explaining the rationale and giving them space to speak about their experiences of policing in this area and their encounters with young people. 
  • Youth Workers – Youth Workers play a critical role in this process as they have an established relationship with young people.  They identified tensions between themselves and the Gardaí. Because the Dialogue process relies on a good collaboration between Youth Workers and Gardaí, we decided to follow-up this relationship first. 

CAN facilitated a two-day Dialogue event for Youth Workers and Gardaí to inquire into the tensions between them. This gave both groups the opportunity to have an honest conversation and to establish more positive ways of working together. They identified practical measures that could improve their working relationship. This was a significant turning point for the success of project.  Youth Workers from different projects then came together to prepare young people to engage in a Dialogue with Gardaí. This took place over a weekend in November 2019, at the Cavan adventure centre.

Following the success of the first programme, a second one took place in 2020. Despite the pandemic, which prevented physical meetings, we redesigned the programme to work online. CAN facilitated conversations between a new cohort of Gardaí and Youth Workers. We assisted the Youth Workers online to design a programme to engage young people, within the limitations of lockdown.  When the restrictions eased, a face-to-face Dialogue for Youth Workers and Gardai took place. Then, a second dialogue took place between Gardaí and young people over a weekend residential.  

As more young people, Youth Workers and Gardaí participated, they became strong advocates for it. The NEIC gave the go-ahead for a third programme in 2022. It seemed then like an opportunity to take stock of where we were in the process. 

A review of the programme was carried out, involving all the stakeholders. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  A strong point that emerged was that for this initiative to succeed, it would need the support of senior management within the Gardaí and the NEIC. 

CAN invited young people, Youth Workers, senior Gardaí, officials from NEIC and Local Community Safety Partnership (LCSP) to sit together in Dialogue at Croke Park in June 2022. 

Another successful Dialogue between young people and Gardaí followed at a residential weekend.  The young people had shared in previous Dialogues where they demonstrated leadership potential to promote this process with their peers.  

Once again, this Dialogue format proved conducive to rich, meaningful exchanges. Some of the themes that emerged were familiar, but as the level of trust grew, deeper inquiry became possible.

Scope of the Dialogue Process

  • Project won the Local and National Policing Award  
  • 40 Gardaí have participated.  
  • 30 Youth workers – 9 youth projects 
  • 25 young people on residential weekends 
  • 40 participated in the mapping process and other joint activities.  

Overall, the relationships between young people, Youth Workers and Gardaí have significantly improved since the process began.

Impact on Young People

  • Feel more comfortable speaking to guards. 
  • Agreed for Gardaí to attend project. 
  • Football matches with Gardaí and other youth clubs. 
  • Presentation to probation Gardaí about their experience and how Dialogue can improve attitudes. 
  • More respect for Gardaí when they attend the youth service. 
  • Feel more comfortable to contact Gardaí directly when they have any issues to resolve. 
  • Visiting Garda stations.

Impact on Youth Workers

  • Feel more comfortable speaking to Gardaí. 
  • Inviting Gardaí into projects regularly. 
  • More confident and open to contacting Gardaí when issues arise.   
  • More awareness and understanding of each other’s roles.   
  • Very comfortable engaging with Gardaí on the street, 
  • Improved relationships.

Impact on Gardaí

  • Helped to see and understand each other’s role better.  
  • Checked out assumption on both sides. 
  • Now feel more able to speak to Youth Workers if an incident occurs between a Garda and a child that they are concerned about. 
  • More Gardaí interested in getting involved.

What People Said …

Youth Worker

Being involved in this process has absolutely changed our relationships for the better.


I have met some of the young people while on the beat since the CAN process and now that a relationship has been formed it was a very positive interaction. 

Young Person

Listening to the Garda point of view, I realised that Gardaí are human, I feel bad for them.

See more …

Systemic Change: Overview
Aligning Intention With Action
Policing Dialogue
Tenant Participation
Publications: Systemic Change