Gardaí want to be able to grow beards – what do you think?

Nobody wants to ‘reunite the Dubliners’ but GRA conference hears call for change on facial hair

Beards are all the rage for police officers over in the UK but are banned for gardaí. Photograph: iStock

Beards are all the rage for police officers over in the UK but are banned for gardaí. Photograph: iStock

 

Rank-and-file gardaí want the right to grow beards and to scrap the ban on facial hair for gardaí in uniforms. The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has adopted an official policy on the right to have beards.

The leadership of the association, which represents 10,200 rank-and-file gardaí in a 13,000-strong force, will now lobby Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan on the issue.

At the closing session of the GRA’s annual conference in Salthill, Galway, on Wednesday afternoon, delegates overwhelming passed a motion seeking the right to grow beards.

However, Ms O’Sullivan appeared bemused when asked about beards by the media at the conference. She said there were other issues within the Garda that must take priority.

“It’s something that we would have to consider very carefully in terms of the standards and the professionalism which we are making sure is right throughout the organisation,” she said.

GRA general secretary Pat Ennis said police officers in other jurisdictions were allow to wear beards.

“I would see no reason why the choice shouldn’t be available to people,” he said.

“There’s very antiquated guidelines and regulations governing these things.”

Exemption

At present uniformed gardaí cannot grow beards. Detectives, who dress in plain clothes or for undercover operations, are permitted facial hair. Gardaí who have any medical issue, such as skin irritation, that makes shaving impossible or painful, are granted an exemption.

The wearing of beards was taken up a number of years ago by Garda whistleblower John Wilson. A former rank-and-file garda, Mr Wilson sought the right to have a beard on medical grounds and was eventually successful.

Garda members believe they should all be allowed to choose whether they shave clean or not. Garda John Joe O’Connell, from Naas station and proposing the motion on behalf of the Kildare division, began his address by quoting from the Garda code.

It states: “If male members desire to wear sideburns, they will be neatly trimmed. Sideburns will not extend downward past the lower part of the exterior ear opening.

“A moustache can be worn and kept tight and neatly trimmed. No portion will extend below the corners of the mouth or fall below a line parallel with the lower lip. Otherwise the face must be clean shaven.”

He said beards were now worn by men from all backgrounds and circumstances and practices within the force should reflect trends in wider society.

If gardaí were permitted to wear beards he stressed it did not mean they would be unkempt, he added.

“I ask you to support this motion. I promise it will grow on you,” he told delegates to laughter from the delegates.

His colleague from the Kildare division, Garda Brendan Stokes from Carbury station, said nobody wanted to “reunite the Dubliners” and “grow beards all over”. From the Sligo-Leitrim division, Garda Jack Kelleher suggested it was a “human right” to be allowed grow and wear a beard.

“They can reduce skin cancer and help reduce asthma and allergies. They help keep you looking young looking.” The ban on beards was an “old law” and the rules of the Garda force need to move with the times.