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Peadar Heffron: GAA speak of 'close work' with PSNI

Peadar Heffron pictured with GAA pundit Joe Brolly at the Dub in Belfast during a PSNI v Garda GAA match. Picture by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

NATIONALIST politicians have said no-one should be marginalised for choosing a career in the PSNI.

They were reacting after Peadar Heffron, who lost a leg in a dissident bomb attack, told how he was shunned by his GAA club after announcing he was joining the new force back in 2002.

The 40-year-old Catholic became a face of policing reform after the PSNI replaced the RUC, speaking in Irish at meetings and captaining its GAA team.

In 2010, the officer suffered devastating injuries when an under-car bomb exploded as he was driving to work in Belfast from his home in Randalstown.

Oglaigh na hEireann claimed responsibility for the attack, which was seen as a blow to the recruitment of nationalists to the force. No-one has ever been convicted.

In an interview with GAA pundit Joe Brolly carried in the Sunday Independent, Mr Heffron gave graphic details of his injuries and said he remained bitter about the way he was treated by members of his own community after deciding to join the PSNI.

He said he was frozen out of games by his local club and ignored by teammates, with republicans also approaching him in a changing room and handing him a leaflet warning of the dangers of joining the PSNI.

"I got into my car, drove home and never came back," he said.

Mr Heffron's old club, Creggan Kickhams, declined to comment on the interview.

The GAA's Ulster Council last night said that in the 15 years since the association removed 'Rule 21' which banned British security force members from Gaelic games, it has "worked closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to promote a range of initiatives to benefit all of the community".

"In this time many GAA members have joined the PSNI, with advertisements for PSNI recruitment carried in GAA publications, including All-Ireland finals match programmes.

"The GAA has a long standing and publicly stated policy of opposition to violence.

"Peadar Heffron joined the PSNI shortly after it was formed and he suffered horrific injuries in an attack in 2010. It is difficult to understand how anybody could attack a fellow human being in this way.

"Through its community engagement and outreach programmes, the GAA has also worked with Peadar and other members of the PSNI in developing better relationships for all in our society."

SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said Mr Heffron's "treatment by members of his own community was disgraceful and few could blame him for looking back bitterly".

"The new beginning to policing was hard fought for. Ensuring Catholics are represented in the police and that policing itself is irrevocably changed was, and remains, a huge challenge for us all," he said.

"Police recruitment is open now. The only way we can change this place and tackle the attitudes that Peadar faced is for young nationalists to join the PSNI. There should be no impediment to that."

Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MLA Linda Dillon, the party's spokesperson on victims and legacy, also said: "Many attitudes throughout society have changed in the last 10-15 years and no-one should be marginalised because they choose a career in the PSNI".

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton tweeted yesterday: "Powerful account by Peadar Heffron of journey and sacrifice - he attempted to serve his community within his community."

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said of the interview: "Peadar's vision and courage contrasts starkly with the abject cruelty of those who grievously injured him."

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