Photo credit: Gript

When it comes to tattooed Gardaí, beggars can’t be choosers

Personally speaking, I’ve never liked tattoos – particularly when it comes to people in positions of authority, like soldiers and police officers.

The whole point of a uniform, after all, is to keep the troops or officers…well, uniform. That’s why, at the extreme end of the spectrum, many militaries make soldiers shave their head into a buzzcut.

You can’t have one soldier rocking a mohawk, and another with pink dreadlocks, and another with his hair slicked back like a male model. At the end of the day, each man is meant to be part of a unit, and you’re supposed to set your individuality aside to adhere to a new collective identity. To allow soldiers to have their own style and “express themselves” defeats the whole purpose of the military structure. And having tattoos automatically makes you stand out from your peers, which is the opposite of what the military should be going for.

While this is less strict in the case of police officers, a similar principle still holds true. As a Garda, when you’re on the clock, you’re not meant to be a human being – you’re meant to be a symbol of the law. That’s why being belligerent to a police officer can get you in trouble – because you’re not just insulting some random guy on the street. You’re insulting the Irish legal system itself. And as such, Gardaí having visible tattoos injects too much personality into the profession for my liking.

But even with all of that said, when the news broke this week that three Gardaí in training were sent home because they had tattoos, the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” did spring to mind, especially in the context of a brutal recruitment and retention crisis the force is experiencing.

As reported by the today:

“Decision to send three garda trainees home due to tattoos labelled ‘ultra-conservative’ by GRA”

The article reads:

“The three trainees that were sent home from the Co Tipperary Garda College were part of 175 recruits that had arrived for induction two weeks ago.

Brendan O’Connor, president of the Garda Representative Association, told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that the move is an “ultra-conservative view of something that is very much the norm”.

The three recruits have reportedly been told to get the tattoos removed if they wish to re-enlist in the Garda College.”

Reportedly, the tattoos in question are “discrete” and “non-offensive,” including a hand tattoo, and a small star behind the ear, which the Garda Representative Association has proposed covering with makeup.

Now, if we lived in a normal society, with a low crime rate, and our pick of hundreds of police officers, then I’d probably be writing an article right now about how the Garda top brass were right to do this for the aforementioned reasons. But think about the context that this is happening in.

Just last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that it will be “very hard” to meet the target of recruiting 1,000 Gardaí this year – especially after the Garda college in Templemore, Co. Tipperary, was shut down as a result of the government’s Covid-19 lockdown policy.

So when violent crime is surging, and police numbers are down 4% in North Inner City Dublin, that has a funny way of changing one’s priorities. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but when I’m on the verge of being stabbed with a hypodermic syringe on O’Connell Street, I’m personally less concerned with the cosmetics of the officer who comes to rescue me, as I am their effectiveness.

Gardaí are constantly being attacked by criminals due to the revolving door courts and prison service we have – hundreds of officers have been assaulted in the last 2 years, with attacks jumping 17%.

Just last year a viral video showed two Gardaí, including a female, being assaulted by assailants in Ballyfermot.

After intervening in an incident outside a pub on the area’s main street, a male Garda was hospitalised with head injures, while the female Garda also sustained unspecified damage. And that incident came just weeks after the infamous Cherry Orchard incident, in which joyriding youths were filmed repeatedly ramming a Garda car in broad daylight in the Dublin area.

And so, against this backdrop, with the force bleeding members rapidly, when you have someone willing to put their tattooed hand up and say “Hey, I’m willing to start this gruelling job,” you should probably say yes, unless there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason not to. And a small tattoo behind one’s ear does not qualify.

In a time of crisis, we need to cut the mindless bureaucracy, and get down to what actually matters: policing our streets.

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