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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 24 July, 2019
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Garda management feared Sikh members could win discrimination cases over turban ban

Earlier this year the force announced a change to rules in relation to uniforms to allow the wearing of turbans and hijabs.

Members of the Metropolitan Police Service in London are also allowed to wear a turban as part of the uniform.
Members of the Metropolitan Police Service in London are also allowed to wear a turban as part of the uniform.
Image: Nick Ansell/PA

GARDA MANAGEMENT FEARED Sikh members of the force could win discrimination cases over the restriction on wearing a turban with their uniform, an internal report has revealed. 

In April An Garda Síochána announced a decision to allow alterations to be made to the uniform for religious and ethnic reasons. Under the changes, the wearing of the turban for members of the Sikh community and the hijab for Muslims is now allowed.

The announcement was made as the force opened a new recruitment competition, which was advertised under the slogan ‘The Difference is You’.

An internal report, obtained under Freedom of Information by Noteworthy, the investigative journalism platform from TheJournal.ie, was completed in March this year by Chief Superintendent Tony McLoughlin.

As part of his report, he explored the case law around prohibiting the wearing of the turban, including a case taken by a garda reserve applicant who was a member of the Sikh community. 

The man had attended training in the Garda College in Templemore and when he went to collect his uniform he was told the turban could not be worn with it. The garda reserve took a discrimination case to the Equality Tribunal and then to the High Court in 2013. 

His case failed due to the fact that he was not considered an employee under the Employment Equality Act – a garda reserve is an unpaid volunteer. 

In his report, Chief Superintendent McLoughlin noted that the employment acts would apply to a member of the Sikh community who applied to be a full time member of the force. A decision not to allow the turban, he said, “could be seen as discriminatory due to the manifest nature of the turban as part of the religion”.

‘Cultural change’

He explained that the importance of the turban to a Sikh goes back in history, where “turban wearing Sikhs have preferred death and torture to having their turban removed or their hair cut”. 

The report also pointed out that there was already one exemption to the general ban on symbols and adornments. In 1923, then Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy allowed garda members to wear the pin of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart, in a bid to encourage them to join. 

McLoughlin suggested that increased diversity in An Garda Síochána can “make it more open to cultural change and more responsive” to the diverse community it serves.

Research indicates that when the public believe that the police serve and understand them, they perceive the police as fair and accountable, which directly and indirectly increases trust and confidence levels in the service. To this end, a more reflective and open-minded culture in An Garda Síochána can aid the contemporary drive to reform institutional culture.

A presentation attached to the report highlighted that just 1% of the more than 14,500 members are born outside of Ireland. However it warned that An Garda Síochána must not “lean towards positive discrimination”.

“Applicants must continue to be screened on job qualifications and police effectiveness, not solely screening candidates upon the diversity needs of the organisation”. 

Source: GardaPressOffice/YouTube

Internal garda correspondence released to TheJournal.ie shows there was concern that the inclusion of non-Irish actors in its ‘The Difference is You’ recruitment advertisement would be seen as “tokenism”. 

The head of the force’s communications unit recognised that the lack of minority actors in the ads could draw criticism from the Policing Authority.

However he referenced the low levels of members from minority communities and said feedback indicated they “don’t want tokenism, but want us to be seen to be engaging with them fairly and appropriately”. 

‘A barrier’

Chief Superintendent McLoughlin’s report stated that the Sikh community in Ireland had complained that the force is “only partially open to ethnic minorities” and that Sikhs were discriminated against. 

He said the Sikh community had said applicants would be “willing to sign a contract to indemnify the state against liability”  as a result of members not wearing a protective helmet. 

The chief superintendent made reference to the fact that other police forces, such as the PSNI and NYPD already allowed Sikh members to wear the turban and that Canadian police have been allowed to wear them since a legal challenge in 1990. 

The report recommended that the turban should be allowed as part of the garda uniform, stating:

“The ban on the turban is seen as a barrier by many communities who otherwise have a healthy and positive relationship with An Garda Síochána.”

The force is currently working towards the roll-out of a new uniform for all members. A pilot for a summer uniform was launched in three stations last July.

The pilot summer uniform was unveiled at last year's GRA conference. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) criticised the proposed new design for the summer uniform, calling for “a dramatic overhaul and modernising” that goes further than pockets on trousers and a breathable summer t-shirt. 

“We need our uniform to reflect the work we do and it should provide the comfort and security to allow us to do our job effectively,” it said.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said the force is aiming to go to procurement for the new uniform by the end of the year.

He said management will look at “innovative solutions” to get the uniform to the frontline as quickly as possible. 

With additional reporting from Ken Foxe and the team at Noteworthy.ie – find out more about their work here.

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