Sinn Féin attends PSNI graduation ceremony for first time in party’s history

Michelle O’Neill joins Emma Little-Pengelly and Naomi Long at the attestation of six newly qualified police officers at Garnerville police college in east Belfast

Sinn Féin has attended a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) graduation ceremony for the first time in the party’s history.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she hoped her presence “encourages young nationalists to come forward” and join the police, as well as “women, people from ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ community”.

Ms O’Neill, the Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and the Minister for Justice, Naomi Long, attended the attestation ceremony for six newly qualified police officers at Garnerville police college in east Belfast on Friday.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, who is a member of the scrutiny committee of the policing board, also attended.


The Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher, described it as “normalisation of policing”, and said the fact the Ministers had “taken the time to come here today is a huge mark of where we’re going with regards not just to the PSNI but Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Féin has historically been critical of the role of the police in Northern Ireland. In 2007 it dropped its policy of opposition and voted to support the PSNI, which replaced the RUC in 2001.

The PSNI has struggled to attract Catholic officers to the force, particularly after the ending of a policy of 50/50 recruitment, and confidence was further damaged by a series of crises last year, including the loss of personal data in an unprecedented data breach.

Asked why it had taken her party so long to attend such a ceremony, Ms O’Neill said she “became first minister last Saturday, this is the first opportunity” and she “wanted to be here because it is such an important time and also to fulfil my commitment to be a first minister for all”.

She said “the ceremony itself has changed and evolved over time, and I think that’s important.

“It was a very positive, uplifting occasion, very important for those constables that have just graduated today, but for me, ultimately, this boils down to the type of society that we’re all trying to build.

“This is about having a police service that represents society, that’s fair and that is there for everybody.”

The Chief Constable said the restoration of the Assembly and Executive was “wonderful news for everybody” and the presence of the heads of government at the graduation was “fabulous for the organisation.

“We talk about representation, the PSNI needs to represent all of our communities, our emerging communities, all of our communities, so we get their trust and confidence.

“That’s the journey we’re on, and the justice minister and the First and Deputy First Minister know, like everybody else in public services, we need the organisation to be funded so we can recruit the numbers we need, and we can pay them properly.”

Supt Gerry Murray, the chairman of the Catholic Police Guild of Northern Ireland, described it as a “significant day at the end of what has been a positive week in Northern Ireland” and it was both “symbolic and appropriate” the Ministers were present.

“The Catholic Guild will work with all political parties to remove outstanding barriers to young Catholics making the police their career choice,” he said.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times