Saturday 24 August 2019

Barbara Scully: 'Collins never imagined a garda in a hijab - but he'd have approved'

Progress: A police officer in a hijab in the city of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Getty
Progress: A police officer in a hijab in the city of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Getty

Barbara Scully

Well, well, well, what have we here? An Garda Síochána being quietly and determinedly progressive by announcing that, in order to attract new recruits from ethnic communities, it will soon be allowing specially designed hijabs and turbans to be worn by gardaí.

I doubt Michael Collins gave much thought to accommodating the religious requirements of Muslims and Sikhs when the force was founded, following the disbandment of the RIC after the War of Independence and Civil War, less than 100 ago. It's a vivid illustration of just how far this little country has come since gaining its freedom.

When I began to travel abroad, I often remarked on how foreign police forces were, well somehow more cosmopolitan, their uniforms trendier than our lads back home, who were, in my teenage mind, usually big country fellas with large feet and who had difficulty pronouncing 'vehicle'. Even the 'ban gardaí', who were invented in 1959, didn't add much cachet to the force, as they were largely an invisible sub-species of guard until the 1980s.

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Oh yes, our beloved gardaí are as Irish as Mass on Sunday, the 'Late Late Toy Show' and Tayto crisps. And, of course, they are the backbone of that other very Irish institution, the Rose of Tralee, with the force providing not only the music but, in the past, having also supplied the winning Rose.

The Ireland I grew up in, in the 1970s, was almost entirely white. The Ireland I grew up in was a place people travelled from, but rarely to.

Ireland has changed hugely and gardaí have always understood that in order to be effective they have to represent the communities they serve. They haven't always managed to do that but this move shows that they are being true to their mission statement to "deliver professional policing and security services with the trust, confidence and support of the people we serve".

Michael Collins might never have envisaged a female guard, never mind one wearing a hijab. But this move by the force to embrace the new communities in Ireland, is one that we should all welcome. It is another mark of a country gaining maturity. It is the very essence of what a republic is about. Michael Collins would definitely get that.

Irish Independent

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