Concern uniformed PSNI to march at Dublin Pride
Uniformed police from both sides of the border will march in Dublin's Pride parade.
PSNI officers will join their Garda counterparts in the Irish capital tomorrow.
Yesterday the PSNI announced that its officers had accepted an offer from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to attend.
Mr Harris was one of the senior officers behind the PSNI's decision to take part in Belfast Pride for the first time in 2017.
The invitation has now come the other way, with Mr Harris now the top officer south of the border.
PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin announced the move.
"This will be the first time that officers in uniform and staff from the Police Service of Northern Ireland have taken part in Dublin Pride on foot of an invitation," he said.
"Over the last few years officers from An Garda Siochana have participated with us as part of Belfast Pride.
"Pride is an important series of events for those who identify as being LGBTQ and we see this as an opportunity to continue to support and build upon our relationship with the LGBTQ community and our colleagues in An Garda Siochana."
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly welcomed the PSNI's participation in Dublin Pride, describing the decision as "a fitting act of solidarity between members of both police services".
But DUP MLA Jim Wells said the PSNI had questions to answer over its participation.
"Are they going there on their own time or on police time? Are they paying for their own travel?" he said.
The South Down MLA, who has lost the party whip, asked: "Why are the PSNI identifying themselves with the event?
"Would they allow PSNI members to take part in Orange parades on the Twelfth of July while wearing their police uniforms?
"Gay Pride parades are a political statement. The PSNI should remain neutral."
TUV leader Jim Allister was also critical.
"Not satisfied with joining this political campaign in their own jurisdiction, now the police service will be attending this event in another jurisdiction," he said.
"I would have thought, given the state of crime in Northern Ireland, the police would have better things to do than this."
Responding to the criticism, the PSNI insisted it was politically neutral. It added: "We recognise the need to positively engage with a range of minority groups, including the LGBT community.
"Minority groups are normally under-represented in the police service and can be the subject of hate crime.
"Engagement is an important opportunity to address under-representativeness, increase confidence among those communities and promote the importance of reporting hate crime."
In respect of the Orange Order, the PSNI said it had regular contact at a local and strategic level.
"This proactive engagement with the Orange Order is very welcome, and essential, and the PSNI has been represented at a previous event organised by the Orange Order," he said.
"However, contact with those who identify as LGBT and associated groups is more sporadic and therefore the opportunity to use Pride events as a means to engage in this way is considered important.
"All PSNI participants in the parade are doing so in their own time, they are not being paid and are not being abstracted from operational duties to do so."