Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

US hardliners boasted they would give our police officers a rough reception ...If they did, no-one noticed

Cheering crowds drowned out minor heckling as the PSNI enjoyed their first historic march alongside Garda colleagues, says Sean Dunne

PSNI officers join their Garda colleagues and Taoiseach Enda Kenny for the St Patrick's Day parade
Revellers and parade participants on New York's Fifth Avenue
Revellers and parade participants on New York's Fifth Avenue

Plans by anti-Agreement republicans to protest against the PSNI's presence in the massive St Patrick's Day parade in New York were a total failure.

The parade was a momentous occasion as PSNI officers – permitted to march for the first time – walked alongside their An Garda Siochana colleagues.

Some Irish American groups had objected to the PSNI's presence, with calls for protesters to make their feelings known.

But that completely failed to materialise when only three protesters appeared.

One carried a placard, but they were largely ignored by the crowd.

There were a few heckles but these were drowned out by the cheering crowd as the officers passed.

As is now traditional, a group of republicans carried a banner reading 'England Out Of Ireland' – the only one permitted on the march.

But there are strict rules over what banners can be displayed, meaning no dissident republican displays were seen for fear of clashes.

But the feeling amongst onlookers about the two police forces marching together was positive.

One couple originally from Donegal, who had lived in New York for the last 35 years, remarked on how it couldn't have happened when they were younger.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who also took part in the parade, welcomed the move by the two police forces.

Speaking at Gracie Mansion at the mayor's breakfast, Mr Kenny addressed a crowd which included city mayor Bill De Blasio and leaders of the Irish American community.

"We have moved on from blockages of the past to open doors for the future.

"I am very happy to see this in New York City this week with members of the PSNI and An Garda Siochana joining forces."

Later, outside the offices of Consulate General of Ireland Noel Kilkenny, Mr Kenny said: "I think it's symbolic to what is going on here today with the PSNI and members of the Garda.

"I know the PSNI officers and the gardai here today are very proud of the fact that they can come together like this as an example of how Ireland has moved on."

PSNI Chief Inspector Sue Steen, who had travelled to New York with five of her colleagues for the NY parade, said that it had been a success and a great honour.

"We were all selected as we participated in the World Police and Fire Games and we're absolutely delighted to be here," she said.

"It's a fantastic honour for us, and for the country as well.

"Our hopes for the day are to represent our organisation, our country and to show people the unity because we are walking with our An Garda Siochana colleagues.

"To show a public display of the close links between the two different police forces and between the two countries, we are happy to be able to demonstrate that." Any controversy over the PSNI's appearance was completely overshadowed about the row over gay and lesbian groups being banned from openly participating in the parade.

All eyes were on Mr Kenny as he defended his decision to march despite a small protest of about 50 gay rights campaigners waving banners and placards as the parade passed along Fifth Avenue.

"This is St Patrick's Day, the 17th of March 2014 – 180,000 people will march in New York today, many of them are gay people and they march proudly in the St Patrick's Day parade, as I do myself," he said.

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