Gardaí tonight defended its rule banning Sikh officers from wearing a turban on duty, claiming the force was not racist but trying to be impartial while providing a state service.
Controversy erupted earlier this week after a Sikh man, an IT professional in his 20s, began training to join the Garda Reserve.
Initially he was told wearing a turban would not be a problem but later a senior officer warned if he wanted to go on duty in a station, he would have to remove it, sparking criticism about the gardaí’s alleged outdated rules.
Superintendent Kevin Donohoe of the Garda Press Office said the force was not advocating one religious belief over another and that An Garda Síochána had an effective intercultural policy.
“There is no doubt that the Garda uniform and dress standards present unique issues in accommodating cultural diversity,” he said.
“These are challenges faced by all facets of Irish society as diversity and integration more and more become real issues.
“The Garda Síochána has, historically, been seen as providing an impartial police service, policing all sections of society equally.
“Accommodating variations to our standard uniform and dress, including those with religious symbolism, may well affect that traditional stance and give an image of An Garda Síochána which the Commissioner feels the public would not want.”
The rule was criticised this week by the Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe and the Irish Sikh Council.
The London-based Metropolitan Police Sikh Association (MPSA) said the uniform policy was 40 years behind the United Kingdom and accused the gardai of racial discrimination.
But Supt Donohoe said An Garda Siobhan's integration policy had not been formulated on a whim, but from extensive research and consultations.
“In March 2006, the Garda Commissioner established a group to examine the issues relating to integration of religious and ethnic minorities into An Garda Síochána and the development of appropriate supports,” he said.
That group engaged with a wide range of organisations including the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, the Equality Authority and other police services.
Gardai have also formulated an intercultural approach to welcome and integrate diversity within the force.
Under this initiative entry requirements were changed to encourage those from different backgrounds to join, 500 Garda Ethnic Liaison Officers were appointed and the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office was set up in 2001.
“These initiatives, including that of dress standards, comply fully with the intercultural approach adopted by An Garda Síochána, with the sole aim of ensuring the integrity of the organisation and its capacity to provide an impartial service to the citizens of this state,” Supt Donohoe said.