Belfast Telegraph

TUV leader Jim Allister writes to Chief Constable to 'cancel official PSNI involvement in Belfast Pride'

'I don't recall any specially liveried PSNI vehicles proclaiming an anti-hate message at the Twelfth'

By Claire Williamson

TUV leader Jim Allister has written to the Chief Constable challenging the decision to allow PSNI officers to march in Saturday's Pride parade.

It comes as the PSNI defended the move to allow uniformed officers to march in the annual parade.

Questions have been raised as to whether the decision will undermine the PSNI's stated neutrality in Northern Ireland after a senior officer conceded the event has a political dimension.

Belfast Pride actively promotes the campaign to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland - the only part of the UK and Ireland where it remains outlawed.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said the PSNI's objective in participating in Saturday's parade was to show support for a community that suffers a "disproportionate" number of hate crime attacks and to reflect the diversity of the police's workforce.

Mr Harris added that the PSNI was "unlikely" to allow uniformed officers to take part in a Christian march that expressed a view that homosexuality was a sin.

"We are a politically neutral organisation," he said.

"Just step back from the narrow point about the societal change that some element of the gay pride event wishes to promote.

"We are there, one, to assure that community of our protection in terms of hate crime and also to be a representative workplace."

He insisted the PSNI was not undermining anyone's belief system.

On Wednesday TUV leader Jim Allister published his open letter to the PSNI's Chief Constable George Hamilton.

Read more: Jim Allister open letter to Chief Constable over PSNI involvement in Belfast Pride: In full

Within it he expresses his "dismay" at the decision and accused the PSNI of "selectivity" as he said that Orange Halls had been targeted in numerous arson attacks, "but no one is suggesting – certainly, not me – that the PSNI should show opposition to these hate crimes by participating in Orange parades", he writes.

The letter states: "This is a highly politicised event with the demand for a change in the law to permit same sex marriage at its heart. Why is the PSNI joining in this political campaign?

"The official slogan for this year’s event is “Demand Change”, which links directly to the campaign for same sex marriage, a point made very clear by the chair of Belfast Pride in the forward to the 2017 Festival Guide.

"Why, then, is the PSNI involving itself in a political campaign? Just as I wouldn’t expect the police to involve itself in demands to change the law on abortion, so, lending support to the demand to change the law on marriage is wholly inappropriate."

Mr Allister also questioned the PSNI vehicles which will also be part of the parade, bearing banners with the Pride message: "Policing with Pride".

He wrote that hate crime is "wrong whoever is the target" but added that he did not recall "any specially liveried PSNI vehicles proclaiming an anti-hate message at the Twelfth! So, why the partisan selectivity in elevating hate crime against LGBT community as alone worthy of police support?".

Mr Allister concludes his letter stating that officers have been authorised to take part in a parade with a "divisive record".

"You must also be aware this is a parade with a history of causing gratuitous offence to Christians with its infamous and blasphemous poster “Jesus is a fag”. Yet, as one who professes the Christian faith, you have authorised the participation of your officers in a parade with such a divisive record. What happens if such a poster is displayed again this year?

"The fact that the parade is divisive and controversial is signified by the fact that it is marked as “sensitive” on the Parades Commission website. Notice of a protest has also been lodged.

"Therefore, as well as the PSNI associating themselves with this overtly political event, there are legitimate questions about how the event can be impartially policed when officers are marching in the parade? I call on you to step in and cancel official PSNI involvement in this political parade."

In response, the PSNI said: "Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “Police officers and staff have been involved in the Pride event for many years. Participation in Pride does not imply that the Police Service of Northern Ireland endorse any political causes. We are a politically neutral organisation.

“Pride is an important series of events for those in the community who identify as being LGB+T. The PSNI sees Pride as an opportunity to highlight that hate crime in whatever form is wrong and the importance of reporting it. It also allows us to show that we are here to protect all members of our community.

“Hate Crime, including homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are well known to be under reported crimes and we have taken this opportunity to livery a number of vehicles to highlight that hate crime is unacceptable.

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is committed to ensuring our workforce is totally representative of the community we serve and that we are seen as an employer of choice.”

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