PSNI officers remain prohibited from taking part in Orange Order and similar parades, despite permission being granted for participation in a Gay Pride event this weekend, a police spokeswoman said.
For the first time, an unspecified number of officers in uniform will walk through the centre of Belfast in what Pride organisers call a “protest and a celebration” on Saturday.
A police commander has defended the decision – after conceding the event has a political dimension.
While many have welcomed the PSNI move, others have questioned whether it will undermine its stated neutrality.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted the organisation’s neutrality would not be compromised by allowing officers to take part in an event where other participants were demanding “societal change”.
When asked by the News Letter if officers were now likely to be granted permission to take part in Orange Order or Ancient Order of Hibernian parades in uniform, the PSNI said: “No – such participation would not be sanctioned.”
Yesterday, Mr Harris said the PSNI was “unlikely” to allow uniformed officers to take part in a Christian march that expressed a view that homosexuality was a sin. Belfast Pride actively promotes the campaign to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK and Ireland where it remains outlawed.
Mr Harris said the PSNI’s objective in participating in Saturday’s parade was to show support for a community that suffers a “disproportionate” number of hate crime attacks and to reflect the diversity of the police’s workforce.
“We are a politically neutral organisation,” he said.
“Just step back from the narrow point about the societal change that some element of the gay pride event wishes to promote. We are there, one, to assure that community of our protection in terms of hate crime and also to be a representative workplace.”
In an interview with the BBC’s Nolan Show, Mr Harris was asked whether hypothetically he would allow uniformed officers to participate in a Christian parade that promoted the message that homosexuality was sinful.
“I think that would be unlikely. I don’t think you can conclude from that that we are not neutral,” he replied.
He insisted the PSNI was not undermining anyone’s belief system.
“By doing this we in no means seek to undermine anybody’s belief and I completely refute that,” he said.
Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: “I will be glad to see PSNI officers at the parade on Saturday and fully support DCC Harris in his rationale for attendance.”