Neck tattoo puts end to army dream

Maria Pepper

Published 01/04/2014 | 05:34

Lee Walker and his tattoo.
Lee Walker and his tattoo.

A young Wexford man has been told he cannot join the Irish Army because he has a tattoo on his neck.

A young Wexfordman has been told he cannot join the Irish Army because he has a tattoo on his neck.

25-year-old Lee Walker's dream of becoming a soldier has been shattered by the ruling.

'I've always wanted to join the army. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do,' said the talented footballer, who is a goalkeeper with North End United and also plays with Wexford Youths.

Lee's case was raised in Dáil Eireann last week by Independent T.D. Mick Wallace.

The Minister for Defence Alan Shatter replied that the relevant admission rule states that 'tattooing above the collar of the shirt is prohibited.'

The Minister explained that this is to prevent the induction of recruits who could not later be deployed on ceremonial duties which are part of the function of military personnel.

However, Lee is adamant that the tattoo of his childhood nickname 'Whacker' is on his lower neck and is not visible above a military tunic.

Deputy Wallace said he was shown photographs of Lee in a still position with his head tilted forward where the tattoo was not visible.

Minister Shatter has promised to look at the Wexfordman's case.

But he said Ireland is not unique in the ruling and pointed out that the British, Australian and U.S. armies have a similar rule.

Lee disagrees with this claim, saying he recently passed his interview and physical exam for the British Army although he no longer wants to leave Ireland as his girlfriend is expecting a baby.

He is bitterly disappointed about being rejected by the Irish Army because when he first applied in 2007 as an 18-year-old, he was accepted.

'I passed everything, the interview, medical and fitness test and I was waiting for a starting date in 2008.'

Unfortunately, the recession hit and a ban on army recruitment was introduced.

'I rang Collins Barracks every week for two years, asking if there was any word on when they would be recruiting again,' said Lee.

In 2010, he received a letter advising him to re-apply. This time he was placed on a waiting list.

He applied again in 2012 when there was another recruitment drive.

Lee, who also has other tattoos, said the Defence Forces put in a new requirement at this stage, specifying that anyone with a tattoo above their collar line would not be accepted. Before he went for his test, he tried on a friend's army tunic to make sure his tattoo was not visible.

During the Army exam, he was told to lean his head forward. An officer in command tugged at his collar and said the tattoo was visible.

'I took it on the chin at the time,' said Lee who subsequently appealed the decision without success. I feel I was unfairly treated. I could understand if the tattoo was visible but it's not,' he said. 'It's only a tattoo. I don't beleieve a tattoo should stop you serving your country,' he added.

Lee's uncle Davy was a member of the Irish Army for twenty years, while another uncle, P.J., is a Quarter Master in the FCA.

In the Dáil last week, Minister Shatter said, 'There are no plans to review the admissibility criteria on the visibility of tattoos, but he told Deputy Wallace that he would look at the specific case.

Gorey Guardian

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