Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin to attend PSNI graduation ceremony

Michelle O’Neill will attend the policing event tomorrow

Michelle O’Neill walks through the Great Hall at Stormont on the day she was elected First Minister
Michelle O’Neill arriving at Stormont on the day she was elected First Minister. PICTURE:  COLM LENAGHAN

First Minister Michelle O’Neill is to attend a PSNI graduation ceremony tomorrow, a spokesperson confirmed.

This is the first time that Sinn Fein will attend such a ceremony in the service’s history.

“Tomorrow the PSNI student officer attestation takes place where a number of new recruits will graduate,” a Sinn Fein spokesperson said.

“Michelle O’Neill will be in attendance and will join the ceremony. Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly MLA will also attend.”

Michelle O’Neill is the vice president of Sinn Fein and Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister.

In her maiden speech, delivered in the Assembly chamber at Stormont last Saturday, she reflected on the moment in history.

“As an Irish republican I pledge co-operation and genuine honest effort with those colleagues who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the union.

“This is an Assembly for all – Catholic, Protestant and dissenter.

“Despite our different outlooks and views on the future constitutional position, the public rightly demands that we co-operate, deliver and work together.”

“This is a historic day which represents a new dawn,” she said.

“For the first time ever, a nationalist takes up the position of first minister.

“That such a day would ever come would have been unimaginable to my parents and grandparents’ generation.”

Efforts have been made to boost Catholic representation in the PSNI as about a quarter of its force are from a Catholic background.

After the major PSNI data breach in August, a representative group said that the recruitment of candidates from the Catholic, nationalist and republican communities had been “severely dented”.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, the party’s justice and security spokesperson, said that Sinn Fein attending the PSNI graduation was “much better than not going”.

“Twenty-three years later, it is better late than never,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“I think I recall around four years ago when there was a similar type of event when Arlene Foster was first minister, and Sinn Fein were extremely reluctant to go then, but if they’re over the line now that’s good.”

He said he would now like to see Sinn Fein support the recruitment of Catholics, as well as Protestants, to the PSNI.

He added: “It’s an unequivocal welcome for a step that should have occurred many years ago, and hopefully it can lead on to further support for getting people across the community to join the police.”

DUP MLA and the party’s Policing Board group leader Trevor Clarke said the decision was overdue but welcome.

“The PSNI was formed in November 2001 therefore whilst late and long overdue, it is good that Sinn Fein has lifted its boycott of PSNI passing out ceremonies,” he said.

“The PSNI has struggled to recruit people from a Roman Catholic background and at least one previous chief constable cited a lack of political leadership within the nationalist community. Undoubtedly Sinn Fein’s lack of support of PSNI recruits was a contributing factor.”