Marches are popular in Belfast, and now is the marching season. Since the decline of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland these displays of loyalty have ceased to attract the controversy they did. Until this week, at least, in the run up to the Belfast Pride march on Saturday 5 August. The Irish Times reports that uniformed gardaí from the Republic of Ireland are due to join their Police Service of Northern Ireland colleagues, also in uniform, at this year’s gay pride parade in Belfast on Saturday.
The PSNI already has confirmed that for the first time its members will be permitted to parade at the Belfast Pride event in uniform. Previously they could march in civilian clothing only.
Now the PSNI has invited the Gardai to accompany them at the parade, an invitation that has been accepted. PSNI vehicles with signs reading “Policing with Pride – Hate Crime is Unacceptable – To Stop It, Report It” will feature at Pride events in Belfast, Newry and Derry.
The local press is loud with criticism of this decision, which, it is said, privileges LGBT discrimination over other forms of hate crime. Critics have pointed out that the PSNI would be “unlikely” to allow uniformed officers to take part in a Christian march that expressed a view that homosexuality was a sin. The PSNI is governed by a code of neutrality, and they are prohibited from participating in political protests.
The PSNI are supposed to be neutral and are prohibited by their own code of ethics from participating in political activity. There is also a duty on the PSNI, under article 6.2 of their code of ethics, to treat all persons equally regardless of status. Loyalists have claimed that there is no community that has experienced more hate crime than the Orange community, with hundreds of arson and criminal damage attacks on their halls. “But no one is suggesting that the PSNI should show opposition to these crimes by participating in Orange parades,” Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice added. Other voices from the loyalist sector have asked whether the “liberal left” would be
so supportive of the PSNI marching alongside a loyalist flute band with a banner saying “End the hatred of Orange culture – report all attacks on Orange Halls”?
The parade, which campaigns, amongst other things, for the legalisation of gay marriage in Northern Ireland, is marked as sensitive on the Parades Commission website. For this reason questions have been raised about the practical consequences of police participation; how can the event be impartially policed when uniformed officers are amongst the marchers?
Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK where gay marriage remains outlawed.