Police chief backs uniformed officers in Belfast Pride - but not Christian march about 'sinful homosexuality'
A police commander in Northern Ireland has defended the decision to allow uniformed officers to march in Belfast's gay pride parade after conceding the event has a political dimension.
While many have welcomed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) move, others have questioned whether it will undermine its stated neutrality in the region.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted the organisation's neutrality would not be compromised by allowing officers to take part in an event where other participants were demanding "societal change".
However, he said the PSNI was "unlikely" to allow uniformed officers to take part in a Christian march that expressed a view that homosexuality was a sin.
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.
Mr 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.
"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."
In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, Mr Harris was asked whether hypothetically he would allow uniformed officers to participate in a Christian parade that promoted the message that homosexuality was sinful.
"I think that would be unlikely," he replied.
"I don't think you can conclude from that that we are not neutral."
He insisted the PSNI was not undermining anyone's belief system.
"By doing this we in no means seek to undermine anybody's belief and I completely refute that," he said.
Belfast Telegraph Digital