Northern Ireland

PSNI chief hails Michelle O’Neill’s attendance at police graduation ceremony as a ‘hugely positive gesture’

Sinn Féin is attending the event for the first time on Friday.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and chief constable Jon Boutcher  during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College on Friday.
Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time.
Picture: COLM LENAGHAN
Sinn Féin attend PSNI graduation ceremony First Minister Michelle O'Neill and chief constable Jon Boutcher during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College on Friday. Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time. Picture: COLM LENAGHAN

The attendance of Sinn Féin’s first minister at a police graduation ceremony is a “hugely positive gesture”, the PSNI’s chief constable has said.

Jon Boutcher said Michelle O’Neill’s presence at the PSNI event in Belfast was “very welcome”.

The ceremony on Friday is the first one attended by Sinn Féin, 23 years after the formation of the PSNI as part of peace process reforms.

Mr Boutcher greeted Ms O’Neill and DUP Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly ahead of the ceremony today at the Garnerville complex.

Justice minister Naomi Long arrived a short time later.

Policing Board member and Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly is also attending the passing out ceremony at the police training college in east Belfast.



Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill and party colleague Gerry Kelly will attend Friday’s ceremony
Dissident republican plot against Sinn Fein Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill and party colleague Gerry Kelly will attend Friday’s ceremony (Rebecca Black/PA)

It comes amid police concerns at stalling efforts to boost Catholic representation in the PSNI.

The targeting of Catholic officers by dissident republicans has been cited as a key factor in falling numbers of applications from members of the nationalist community.

In 2020, Ms O’Neill became the first senior Sinn Féin figure to attend a recruitment campaign launch for the PSNI, posing with posters showing policing as a positive career choice.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College  on Friday.
Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time.
Picture: COLM LENAGHAN
Sinn Féin attend PSNI graduation ceremony Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly , Justice Minister Naomi Long and Gerry Kelly at the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College on Friday. Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time. Picture: COLM LENAGHAN

Mr Boutcher said the latest gesture by Ms O’Neill was “very welcome and hugely positive gesture”.

DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly and Alliance party Justice minister Naomi Long will also attend.

“With the restoration of the assembly, now is the time to grasp the opportunity to work together, rather than have policing as a political football,” said Mr Boutcher.

“I am determined for the security and safety of the people in Northern Ireland, that such future events will have the officer numbers we need to keep Northern Ireland safe, rather than the small yet important number of officers attesting today.

“The reduction of officer and staff numbers and lack of pay awards is the message that everyone should be focused upon.”

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Kelly during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College  on Friday.
Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time.
Picture: COLM LENAGHAN
Sinn Féin attend PSNI graduation ceremony First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Kelly during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College on Friday. Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time. Picture: COLM LENAGHAN

DUP politicians welcomed Ms O’Neill’s planned attendance at the passing out ceremony, but said it was “overdue” and urged Sinn Fein to play a more active role in PSNI recruitment.

“Twenty-three years later, it is better late than never,” DUP MP Gregory Campbell said on Thursday.

Ms O’Neill’s attendance at the PSNI College comes after she pledged to be a leader for all.

As she became the first nationalist first minister last Saturday, she vowed to represent “our whole community” and described the north as “a changing portrait”.