President greeted by black Irish guard

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The Independent Online
It may not have looked that way, but the Guard of Honour for President Mandela yesterday was drawn entirely from members of the ethnic minorities. They were all Irish.

A quarter of the "Micks", as the Irish Guards are known, come from the Irish Republic, 35 per cent from Ulster and the remainder from Irish families in Britain. But, conscious of criticism that black and Asian people were under-represented in the Guards, the Army managed to put one black Irish guardsman in the front rank .

With Mr Mandela's visit, the Army's recent drive to raise "ethnic awareness" was put to the test. The 1st Battalion the Irish Guards is the unit currently on ceremonial duties, and the Army said it would not have been possible to draft the small number of black guardsmen into London to greet President Mandela; nor did they see any reason why they should.

The Army has been made acutely aware that the proportion of black and Asian people in the forces, and especially in the Household Cavalry and five regiments of foot Guards, is unrepresentative of the nation. A recent study by the Commission for Racial Equality highlighted discrimination against black people in the Household Cavalry.

Until recently, it was not possible to determine how many soldiers came from ethnic minorities because such records were not kept. It was left to the Prince of Wales to remark that there were very few black faces to be seen under bearskins. But since 1 June, revised forms have been introduced as part of a system for monitoring the progress of ethnic minority applicants in all three services, and a separate record has been kept on the ethnic origin of all applicants to the Household Cavalry.

Equal opportunities awareness is now part of military command training at all levels: the first lectures were given at Sandhurst in August 1995 and at the Staff college.

The issue is also now raised during promotion courses for corporals and sergeants.