Jestes aresztowany. Jak sie nazywasz? Most of us would be at a disadvantage — or more probably a complete loss — if a policeman posed that question to us. In that situation (the Polish officer has just arrested you, by the way, and wants to know your name) it would be utterly essential to understand what’s being said to you and required of you.
Clear communication can make all the difference between a simple misunderstanding and a night or more in the cells. Which is why the PSNI’s spending on translation is one increased cost that must be borne. The number of tongues spoken on the streets of towns like Dungannon is one of the signs of how far-reaching immigration is becoming on our society.
Whether they are speaking to them as suspects, witnesses or victims of disgusting and frequent xenophobic attacks, police need to be able to communicate with Northern Ireland’s immigrants.
That doesn’t come cheaply. Last year, police
spent £865,000 on translators for documents, phone conversations or, in most cases, for face-to-face interviews.
That’s six times higher than what was spent four years ago.
It’s a big increase, especially when the PSNI has to cut £100 million from its budget to meet Government financial constraints, and there is as much pressure as ever for better frontline policing.
Immigration brings difficulties — wage undercutting of skilled workers by the infamous Polish
plumber, for example — but it also brings new blood and new dynamic to any society.
It’s also part of the upshot of our belonging to the EU, an arrangement that has to date brought more benefits than disadvantages to Northern Ireland.
And it’s a situation that is unlikely to change. In the past three years, the equivalent of the population of Coleraine has moved into Northern Ireland.
Almost one in 10 of primary school children in Dungannon don’t speak English as their first lan
guage. Almost one in five of the babies born in the district have mothers who were themselves born outside Northern Ireland.
Many of those parents and children will integrate seamlessly into life here and language will no longer be an issue.
Immigration is also slowing slightly, but Government statistics show up to half of immigrants will cycle in and out of the country — meaning a steady run of non-English speakers for the foreseeable future.
The PSNI needs to be able to talk to them. The costs present senior officers with a management challenge, but it’s one that can be overcome, perhaps through more secondments by foreign officers. Or it may become more cost-effective to employ full time translators and teach officers.
It’s essential police hear and understand Northern Ireland’s newest residents.
Justice may necessarily be blind, but it can’t be deaf as well.