Recently I served a period of time as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
I have many friends who are both currently and retired police officers of various ranks.
I am proud of my personal connections to policing.
Everyone that I served with, and those that I know personally, left their home and family at the beginning of every shift they worked without certainty that they would return without suffering physical or mental damage as they worked without fear or favour to protect life and property in this country.
This remains the same for officers today.
I have never encountered any officer who allowed their religion, or none, to influence how they dealt with any individual or issue.
What sometimes gets forgotten is that many young men and women who joined either the RUC or PSNI to serve the people of Northern Ireland had to move out of the communities that they belonged to and lived in because of the threat to either their own safety or that of their families.
Of course there were and are rotten apples in the policing barrel.
Every section of society have rotten apples. The police have always had robust processes to root out and deal with such officers.
It is widely accepted in policing circles that the police in Northern Ireland have been the most scrutinised anywhere in the world.
Given all that I cannot understand why Sinn Fein deploy a default position that the police are unacceptable to the community Sinn Fein claim to represent. It would seem that they just can’t wait for the next opportunity to finger point at the police and trot out their tiresome and practiced rhetoric.
I wonder do they conduct training sessions for their representatives and members to maximise every opportunity to undermine and demonise the police? The repetitive and universal narrative engaged would suggest they indeed do.
What do they mean when they say the police must be representative of the areas they police?
Do they mean by that what school the officers attended or the church they might worship in?
How does that work without requiring officers to carry a visible means of identifying their background? Such suggestions are sheer bunkum.
A police officer is a police officer. That is all the public they serve need to know.
When someone calls for police assistance be it a domestic incident, a road accident or some poor troubled individual threatening to jump off a bridge, no one is going to enquire what religion, or none, the attending officer is.
A local newspaper made a contribution to the policing debate recently by suggesting that some nationalist officers in the PSNI had a range of concerns and grievances.
Given a few recent policing operations that tactically compromised the safety of officers and indeed on one occasion led to a series of injuries through poor operational decisions I would have thought that such concerns may not be unique to the group the newspaper referred to.
Mechanisms exist to address these and I would encourage any police officer with concerns to use these processes.
It is time to retire this unhealthy obsession of some politicians and others with the religion of police officers and perhaps time they looked in the mirror at themselves and start to try and understand what their true and personal motivation on the topic is.
• Alan Chambers is Ulster Unionist MLA for North Down
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