PSNI chief ‘should step in’ over uniformed officers in Gay Pride parade

Last year's Gay Pride parade passes in front of Belfast City Hall
Last year's Gay Pride parade passes in front of Belfast City Hall

The chief constable has been urged to “step in” and take action after it emerged that uniformed PSNI officers are to take part in Belfast’s Gay Pride parade on Saturday.

TUV leader Jim Allister has asked why the PSNI is involving itself in a “political campaign” and accused the force of “partisan selectivity”.

Supt Emma Bond, DCC Drew Harris and Anne Connolly, chair of Northern Ireland Policing Board at the launch of Policing with Pride

Supt Emma Bond, DCC Drew Harris and Anne Connolly, chair of Northern Ireland Policing Board at the launch of Policing with Pride

This is the first time police officers in Northern Ireland will participate in the main parade in uniform.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris, however, said participation in Gay Pride “does not imply that the Police Service of Northern Ireland endorse any political causes”.

• Read more on controversy: See links below

The PSNI had earlier said it wants to stamp out hate crime against members of the LGBT community in the Province. Uniformed Garda officers are also set to take part in the parade.

But Mr Allister expressed concerns that by associating itself with the event, the PSNI will be unable to police the parade with any degree of impartiality.

The North Antrim said it was “wholly inappropriate” for the police to lend their support to demands for a change in marriage laws in NI.

The issue of same-sex marriage is a contentious one in Northern Ireland, as the Province is the only region of the UK where gay marriage remains outlawed.

Last month, thousands of people joined a major parade through Belfast city centre demanding same-sex marriage rights.

Three PSNI Land Rovers, which have been liveried up with anti-hate crime messages, will be operational throughout the 10-day festival.

Mr Allister told the News Letter he would not expect the PSNI to get involved in a parade demanding changes to the law on abortion, and asked why the Gay Pride event should be any different.

Highlighting an infamous placard which appeared at a previous Gay Pride parade in Belfast proclaiming “Jesus is a fag”, Mr Allister queried why the chief constable was allowing his officers to become involved in a parade which has “a history of causing gratuitous offence to Christians”.

He added: “Our chief constable, who himself professes the Christian faith, has authorised the participation of his officers in a parade with such a divisive record. What happens if such a poster is displayed again this year?

“The parade is controversial and is marked as sensitive on the Parades Commission website. Notice of a protest has also been lodged.

“Therefore as well as the PSNI associating themselves with this political event, there are legitimate questions about how the event can be impartially policed when officers are marching in the parade.

“I would call upon the chief constable to step in and rectify this situation.”

Mr Allister added that by taking part in the Pride parade, police were elevating hate crimes against the LGBT community above crimes against other sections of society.

“If, as some claim, it is about showing solidarity against hate crime – which, of course, is wrong whoever is the target – then, why the selectivity by the PSNI?” he said.

The North Antrim MLA claimed there was no community that had experienced more hate crime than the Orange community, with hundreds of arson and criminal damage attacks on their halls.

“But no one is suggesting that the PSNI should show opposition to these crimes by participating in Orange parades,” he added.

“Nor, do I recall any specially liveried PSNI vehicles proclaiming an anti-hate message at the Twelfth.

“So, why the partisan selectivity in elevating hate crime against LGBT community as alone worthy of police support?”

Mr Allister also reflected on the controversy caused by the PSNI’s involvement in a St Patrick’s Day parade in New York back in 2014.

Concerns were voiced after six PSNI officers took part in the march, among explicitly Irish republican banners.

“I would have hoped that the PSNI would have learned lessons from the New York St Patrick’s Day parade,” Mr Allister added.

“However, evidently they have not.”

Responding, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “Police officers and staff have been involved in the Pride event for many years. Participation in Pride does not imply that the Police Service of Northern Ireland endorse any political causes. We are a politically neutral organisation.

“Pride is an important series of events for those in the community who identify as being LGB+T. The PSNI sees Pride as an opportunity to highlight that hate crime in whatever form is wrong and the importance of reporting it. It also allows us to show that we are here to protect all members of our community.”

He added: “The PSNI is committed to ensuring our workforce is totally representative of the community we serve and that we are seen as an employer of choice.”

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