Brianna Parkins: Why should a visible tattoo stop you from becoming a garda?

Three trainee gardaí with visible tattoos were sent home from the Garda Training College in Co Tipperary

Three would-be gardaí were sent home from training because their visible tattoos breached the uniform policy, and the timing couldn’t have been worse for the police service.

The recent violent attacks on tourists have inspired the latest “how safe is Ireland and Dublin really” news cycle which in turn saw Garda staffing levels come under scrutiny.

There were reports a mere three months ago of a 30 per cent shortfall between actual Garda recruitment numbers and Government targets, figures which caused the Garda Representative Authority to warn of a “Garda recruitment and retention crisis that is at an unprecedented scale in this organisation”.

When mixed in together, all of these events combine into an unfortunate PR disaster smoothie for gardaí. It’s easy to see how public reaction became “here we are crying out for gardaí and we’re throwing perfectly good ones away”.


It’s a disgrace, Joe.

With tattoos reaching the point of “nearly everyone has one now” (even Sir Ian McKellan, aka Gandalf, got inked in his 60s), debates have sprung up about their place alongside professionalism. Why exactly are they at odds with someone’s ability to do a certain job?

The An Garda Síochána uniform and dress code doesn’t really tell us.

Just that “Body art (tattoos) on the face, or visible above the collar, are not permitted”.

Any other tattoos outside those areas “will be covered at all times while on duty, whether in uniform or plain clothes”.

In other words, you’re allowed to have tough guy stickers but we don’t want to see them.

Which sounds reasonable until you remember the trend of tiny little fragile stars behind the ears and delicate script writing of “breathe” on wrists and fingers. Would these Erasmus-year impulse decisions preclude you from a career with the Garda?

Dress codes for work, if not required for safety or operational reasons, are really just a form of adult cosplay

Unfortunately for Dame Helen Mirren, the rules mean she would never get through the gates of Templemore to realise what I’m sure is her ultimate dream of becoming a probation constable doing traffic stops in Ennis. Rumour has it she curses at the penny-sized squiggle on the back of her hand from time to time. Luckily, she does have her acting to fall back on.

But perhaps gardaí have a good reason for the ink bar? Something operational maybe or due to security?

So we asked.

A Garda representative confirmed three of the 175 Garda recruits in that particular intake “had their positions deferred pending their compliance with the uniform and dress code”.

Then repeated the part of the dress code about tattoos.

None of which answered the question why it existed in the first place.

So we are left to make up our own, incredibly incorrect answers of why visible tattoos or ones that aren’t covered up by uniform aren’t allowed.

The official non-response gives me reason to believe it’s simply “BECAUSE WE SAID SO” bellowed with hands on hips in the manner of your mam refusing to let you go to a party as a teenager.

Or maybe they just want to discourage people from getting really cringe tattoos, which is fair enough.

But they should know the worst punishment of any tattoo owner isn’t being denied entry into a career of law enforcement, it is instead waves of really annoying people coming up, poking you and asking “what does that mean?” about your poor decisions.

Having to re-articulate your “really cool, meaningful” idea over and over again until you see how embarrassing it is for the rest of your life is enough of a consequence.

Police officers at the Met in London and in some Australian states can have some visible tattoos subject to criteria thanks to policy updates.

London’s Met Police said it “amended its policy guidelines on tattoos” in recognition “that tattoos form part of many cultures and are becoming increasingly socially acceptable”.

While the New South Wales force tightened rules in 2013 citing “professionalism” and the potential for tattoos to offend some of the public the officers are meant to be serving, it does allow “small non-offensive tattoos” on the hands, neck and behind the ear.

The body art modification policy also acknowledges that to truly encourage diversity in the force, cultural tattoos would be given special consideration. In 2021, senior constable Brenda Lee became the first Maori officer in the Queensland Police to proudly wear moko kauae – the traditional, sacred female marking on her chin.

Coincindently, senior constable Lee is also of Irish descent and hopefully if she was ever to grace Templemore, we’d like to think the current tattoo policy would undergo an immediate review to welcome her.

It’s been a big week for professional dress standards with the Labour Court ordering Aer Lingus to stop demanding its female staff to wear heels when not on board the aircraft. Which also raised the question of why they are still required to wear them at all in the year of Our Lord 2023. It’s a bit like the office putting out a memo that the accountants are no longer required to wear those ye-old green-coloured visors. I would like the people in charge of getting me to safety in case of an emergency to be comfortable and sure footed at all times instead of playing out a weird, sexist trope of “glamorous trolly dolly”, but that’s just personal preference.

Dress codes for work, if not required for safety or operational reasons, are really just a form of adult cosplay. But instead of dressing up as our favourite character we’re dressing up as “competent person who can do work good”. It’s a grim daily parade of tricking everyone into thinking we’re professionals with the help of blazers and no tattoos.