Peadar Heffron brave to speak out, says PSNI widow Kate Carroll
The widow of the first PSNI officer to be murdered by terrorists has praised Peadar Heffron's bravery in speaking out about being ostracised by members of his community for joining the police.
Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was shot dead by dissidents in 2009, said she hoped the former officer's experiences would not deter other Catholics from joining.
Mr Heffron, who suffered life-changing injuries in a bomb attack in 2010, told how he had been shunned by GAA team-mates after entering the PSNI.
Mrs Carroll said: "The name of the force was actually changed to placate people so that Catholics would be encouraged to join.
"I don't see anything wrong with someone going out and doing a day's work, especially a job as intense as a police officer.
"I think it would be a good step forward if people were allowed to get on with their work instead of being subjected to shootings and bombings.
"I hope people would see that Catholic police officers are trying to come together and make more of the community and help the community."
Mrs Carroll said her husband, a Catholic, was told by a fellow officer to take off a crucifix he was wearing when he first joined.
She said: "Stephen was not bigoted in any way. He could not understand why people would treat him like that.
"His attitude to life was to treat everyone the same. He went out there every day to do a job that was quite dangerous."
Mrs Carroll said she admired anyone who joined the PSNI.
She added: "I have met Peadar a few times and I am glad he is speaking out."
Mr Heffron told earlier this of his anger at the terrorists who planted a bomb under his car in 2010. Due to the severity of his injuries, his right leg had to be amputated.
He also spoke of his disappointment that members of his former GAA club, Creggan Kickhams in Randalstown, shunned him for joining the PSNI in 2002.
Peter Sheridan, chief executive of peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland and a former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, said more work had to be done to ensure the police force was representative of the community it served.
"The Patten Report was about changes in policing to make it a more acceptable service across the society," he said.
"We have to be careful that things don't go backwards and that we continue to encourage policing to be as reflective of society, in terms of its make-up, as we can."
Speaking to Sunday Independent columnist Joe Brolly, Mr Heffron told how his club turned its back on him as soon as he announced plans to join the newly-formed PSNI in 2002. Asked whether Mr Heffron's experiences would put Catholics off joining the PSNI, Mr Sheridan said: "It could put people off, but it happened 15 years ago - there has been some change.
"But the threat that is out there will no doubt impact on people's minds who live in communities you really want to recruit from.
"On the other side, it demonstrates that people are capable of making up their own minds, even when people are against them.
"Unfortunately in Peadar's case it cost him his health. But it's not the same with everyone. There are a lot of Catholics or nationalists (who have joined the PSNI) who have not suffered to that extent."
Mr Sheridan added that he had seen the GAA make "enormous efforts" to try and bridge gaps between communities since the PSNI was formed.
In a statement, the GAA said it was working closely with the PSNI to develop closer relations and condemned the attack on Mr Heffron.
It said that the organisation had a long-standing policy of opposition to violence and outlined how members worked closely with the PSNI on a range of initiatives.
But DUP MP for South Antrim Paul Girvan has challenged the GAA to ensure that members do not face opposition if they join the police in the future.
He said: "I have written to Creggan Kickhams GAC, the Antrim Board and Ulster Council urging them to make clear that the hate, intimidation and ostracism faced by Peadar Heffron for joining the PSNI was wrong.
"It is also important that the club, board and council each state that any member who wishes to join the PSNI will not face the same displays of bigotry and intolerance, but rather is encouraged to join and serve the whole community."