Integration Minister Conor Lenihan urged the Civil Service to adopt a policy of hiring immigrants like the Gardai (police) do then hid his blushes as it was revealed a Sikh part-time member of the police reserve is banned from wearing his turban while on duty.
While immigrant membership of police forces is well-established in many countries it is still a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland, and the Garda leadership is still reviewing how it recruits foreign nationals due to the low numbers who actually made it into the force.
Of 7,000 foreign applicants, only 200 made it through to aptitude tests. Yet Lenihan, whose portfolio is a new one in the Irish government, insisted the force was “ahead of the pack” in making efforts to get staff from ethnic communities.
Lenihan, younger brother of Justice Minister Brian Lenihan, said he had discussed with Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy the case of the turban ban on the Sikh member of the reserve.
He said the commissioner and his staff were currently considering their position about ethnic forms of headgear for members of the force and its reserve. And, he added, it was only to be expected that immigrants to Ireland must accept Irish culture.
Lenihan acknowledged that the issue of the turban is important for the Sikh community but he insisted, “If we are to take integration seriously people who come here must understand our way of doing things.
“When the president and ministers travel to the Middle East they accept the cultural requirements of the country they are operating in.”
The Sikh forbidden to wear his turban on duty is an information technology professional who, according to sources in his community, joined the Garda reserve from a sense of civic duty.
Turbans are worn by Sikh members of western police forces elsewhere, including in London and Canada. There is expectation that a compromise will eventually be reached in Ireland.
Meanwhile, Lenihan has set up a new task force on integration reform, with a specific brief to contact members of immigrant and Irish communities before making recommendations to the government.
He said the civil service should actively recruit foreigners living here to work in national and local government departments.
He added, “Host communities need to respect cultural differences and inform themselves about newcomers. Newcomers need to give the same respect to cultural differences.”