Sat Hari Singh Harrington, the Acting President of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Sikh Association of New York, has written this wonderful missive to the Irish minister arguing how the denial or refusal to allow a Sikh to sport his turban after induction into the Garda force was against everything that the Irish culture and ethos stood for. In fact, Sat Hari Singh Harrington has even argued that the hat that the Sikh recruit was expected to wear is miles removed from anything Irish, something that the minister too needs to learn.
Turbans and the Garda
Minister Conor Lenihan T.D.
Leinster House, Dublin 2
Dear Mr. Lenihan,
You have rejected an Irish born Sikh of immigrant parents the right to practice his religion and be part of Ireland’s national police force. Mr. Minister you have also said that immigrants to the country must accept Ireland’s culture.I as an Irish person of the Sikh faith think that your understanding of Irish culture is superficial at best. The culture of Ireland cannot be minimized or trivialized to what kind of hat one wears. Nor is Ireland about what faith one practices, as even the faith of Ireland has changed over the millennia. I think that the Celtic tradition of tolerance and hospitality takes precedence over any understanding of Irish hats and their importance in Irish culture.
Does anybody see anything Irish in the Garda’s headgear? The hat looks like the head-coverings used by most European and American police forces. It is a legacy of the British occupation. There is in fact nothing Irish about the Garda hats. I challenge you Mr. Conor Lenihan to show how they are distinctly Irish.
Turbans are worn by Sikh police officers and elsewhere, most notably the London Metropolitan Police, where it was not found to conflict with ”things English”. Your view Mr. Minister of Integration is a throwback and re-expression of sectarianism. No doubt religious minorities in other parts of Ireland especially those not part of the Irish Republic are looking with interest at your statements.
It is time for such shallow definitions of culture to no longer be the basis of national policies. All over the Western world accommodation is seen as an important part of culture.
The Irish have assimilated thousands of Norman, Norse and English people, words and concepts into Irish culture and this made it a distinctly Irish culture. When St. Patrick came he was met with hospitality and no one told him how to dress or what to wear when he was in Ireland. The Jews of Ireland were one of the most active participants in the Irish struggle for independence, and the Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin Lord Briscoe is fondly remembered. Ireland has benefited from countless immigrants, Eammon DeValera the long time Prime minister and patriot was half Cuban, and born in New York City, no one told him to adopt an Irish surname, nor said his foreign birth made him less Irish than others. James Connolly, another noted Irish patriot and martyr was born in Scotland, no one told him to speak with an Irish accent. Daniel O’Connor was a Freemason. Many Irish patriots were Protestants as well.
Ireland is a unique blend of peoples from many lands who have expressed Irish culture in many ways. Irish culture is always changing. That process will not stop by government fiat. The kind of hat you wear is a superficial aspect of Irish culture and a degrading barometer of one’s Irishness.
Mr. Conor Lenihan you have demanded that the Irish born Sikh in question to forsake his religion to be Irish according to your lights. This is not freedom, but violating an essential right to freedom of religion.
But it must be remembered the person applying for the police reserve is an Irish born citizen. This young man is not an immigrant; he is Irish born and bred. He became Irish by the oldest known method, birth, just as you did Mr. Lenihan.
It was in response to the very specific call to the minority races and communities in Ireland to volunteer for Garda service that he decided to apply, and this Irish hat condition was not disclosed prior to his application. The Sikh applied for the Garda because he thinks of himself as Irish and Ireland as his home. He therefore he wants to serve his people and his homeland and maintain his religion, just as you want to serve the Irish people and keep your faith. No restrictions were put on him during the application and training process because of his religion and none should now, as he wishes to be serve the Irish community he was born into.
Do Irish men have the right to practice their religion in the Irish Republic?, or is there a religious test for the Irish police force? Are you Mr. Lenihan in charge of such religious tests? Is this act a warning to minorities in Ireland?
This may seem like a small matter but it is not, it is a fight for a deeper understanding of what Irish culture is and whether tolerance and understanding are more important that English type uniform hats.
Sat Hari Singh Harrington
Acting President of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Sikh Association of New York.