EPS has raised its concerns about the decision by PSNI to allow its officers to participate, for the first time ever in uniform, in the Belfast Pride parade on Saturday 5 August 2017. The full text of our letter dated 31 July 2017 to the Chief Constable, Mr George Hamilton, and the reply dated 2 August from his Staff Officer are published below –
Dear Mr Hamilton
I write on behalf of the Council of the Evangelical Protestant Society to express our concern that uniformed PSNI officers will be taking part in the Gay Pride parade through Belfast for the first time on Saturday, and that several police land rovers will be decorated with banners saying “Policing with Pride”.
I understand that similar actions have already been taken by police forces in GB, and I recognise that, as is highlighted on the land rover banners, the initiative is related, partly at any rate, to the need to tackle hate crime. We fully support all police efforts to tackle hate crime in our society. However, the nature of the police involvement in Saturday’s event gives rise to serious and legitimate concerns about the impartiality of the PSNI. You will, I am sure, reject any allegation of bias or lack of impartiality, but perception is important, and there is no doubt that the PSNI will now be perceived by some in our community as less than impartial in the whole area of the gay pride agenda.
My organisation is not involved in the act of witness outside Belfast city hall on the day of the Pride parade, but I suspect that those who are organising and taking part in that event will now lack confidence in the impartiality of the police.
One of the key aims of the Gay Pride campaign is to secure same sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Those of us who oppose any change to the definition of marriage will no longer be able to regard the PSNI as impartial on this issue.
It is interesting to contrast this open support for one section of the community with the tight controls exercised by PSNI over its officers who are members of the loyal orders. Such membership has indeed been frowned upon. However, if the PSNI is to be consistent, then members of the PSNI who are Orangemen should be permitted to take part in next year’s Twelfth of July parades, and they should be able to do so in full police uniform. Police landrovers should also be decorated in orange colours with a statement about the need to combat hate crime against Protestants and loyalists.
The scenario I have just outlined above seems absurd, but it is no more absurd than police participation in Saturday’s parade. We feel it is entirely inappropriate for uniformed police to take part in any parade which represents sectional interests. We want the police to be impartial and to be seen to be impartial.
Dear Mr Thompson,
Thank you for your email and attached letter to the Chief Constable, to which I have been asked to respond.
Like many other forces across the UK who permit participation in similar events, our participation in the Pride parade has been based on a policing purpose.
Hate Crime, including homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are well known to be under reported crimes. In conjunction with this, one of the outcomes set out by the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s Policing Plan, is that that PSNI should work with partners to improve the service it provides in relation to hate crime.
PSNI’s participation in the Pride parade is, as stated by the Deputy Chief Constable, an opportunity to highlight that hate crime, in whatever form, is wrong and the importance of reporting it.
PSNI is a politically neutral organisation. PSNI officers attend and take part in many events always with the objective of Keeping People Safe. Participation in the Pride parade does not imply that the PSNI is supporting causes which Belfast Pride supports.
Police officers and staff have been involved in the Pride event for many years. However, this is the first time they will have participated in uniform. Members of the PSNI LGBT Network requested to take part in uniform and approval was given by the Deputy Chief Constable. While those taking part are being supported by the Service in this way, they are doing so in their own time.
I understand that this may not be the response you had hoped for however I trust it will provide some clarity around our position. If of course you remain unhappy I would advise you to contact the office of the Police Ombudsman.
T I Johnston Sgt
Staff Officer to Chief Constable