Controversy over uniformed officers’ first Pride march

Officers from the UK joined colleagues from An Garda Siochana for the first ‘uniformed’ appearance at the Belfast Pride parade.

Aug 7, 2017

Officers from the UK joined colleagues from An Garda Siochana for the first ‘uniformed’ appearance at the Belfast Pride parade. The 40 or so police participants were greeted with massive cheers from the crowds who lined the city`s streets to watch the annual gay event. They were among the 8,000 people watched by an estimated 15,000 supporters at the biggest parade in the province this year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has come under some criticism for allowing officers to join the parade, with accusations their participation will undermine the organisation`s stated neutrality in the region. However, the PSNI has insisted that participation in the event “is about inclusion and representation”, as support for a community that suffers a “disproportionate” number of hate crime attacks. Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted the PSNI’s neutrality would not be compromised by taking part in an event where other participants were demanding “societal change”. Belfast Pride comes amid heightened scrutiny throughout the UK on LGBT issues in Northern Ireland after the Democratic Unionists` Party’s (DUP) parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party. Northern Ireland’s continued ban on same-sex marriage is one of the issues preventing the restoration of a power-sharing government at Stormont. Sinn Fein has said it will only agree to re-enter a coalition administration if the DUP stops blocking a law change. The DUP has used a controversial Northern Ireland Assembly-voting mechanism – the Petition of Concern which requires a 60 per cent weighted majority – to prevent a law change, despite a majority of MLAs supporting the move at the last vote. The party rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is instead protecting the “traditional” definition of marriage. Many participants in Saturday`s (August 5) parade carried banners and placards calling for the introduction of gay marriage. Earlier, Irish Premier Leo Varadkar attended a gay Pride breakfast in Belfast. He insisted it was not a political gesture, but a “gesture of solidarity”. The PSNI, Garda and UK officers were attending the event for the first time in uniform. Three PSNI Land Rovers, which have been liveried up with anti-hate crime messages, will be operational throughout the ten-day festival, and will also be used at Pride events in Newry and Londonderry. The PSNI has spelt out its message against a rainbow-coloured backdrop: `Policing with Pride – Hate Crime is Unacceptable – To Stop It, Report It.` Meanwhile, Sussex Police Chief Constable Giles York said he was proud to be among parade marchers at the Brighton and Hove pride 2017 at the weekend. He said: “Pride is so important to my staff and the community of Brighton, and it is a privilege and a pleasure to have joined in the parade again this year.”

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