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Michelle O’Neill to attend PSNI graduation ceremony in Sinn Fein first

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill is to attend a PSNI graduation ceremony on Friday, a spokesperson has confirmed.

This is the first time that Sinn Fein will attend such a ceremony in the police service’s history.

It comes after Ms O’Neill pledged to represent “our whole community” as she became the first nationalist First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Ms O’Neill will attend the event with Policing Board member and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.

“Tomorrow the PSNI student officer attestation takes place where a number of new recruits will graduate,” a Sinn Fein spokesperson said.

“Michelle O’Neill will be in attendance and will join the ceremony. Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly MLA will also attend.”

Efforts have been made to boost Catholic representation in the PSNI as about a quarter of its force are from a Catholic background.

After the major PSNI data breach in August, a representative group said that the recruitment of candidates from the Catholic, nationalist and republican community had been “severely dented”.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell, the party’s justice and security spokesperson, said that Sinn Fein attending the PSNI graduation was “much better than not going”.

“Twenty-three years later, it is better late than never,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“I think I recall around four years ago when there was a similar type of event when Arlene Foster was first minister, and Sinn Fein were extremely reluctant to go then, but if they’re over the line now that’s good.”

He said he would now like to see Sinn Fein support the recruitment of Catholics, as well as Protestants, to the PSNI.

He added: “It’s an unequivocal welcome for a step that should have occurred many years ago, and hopefully it can lead on to further support for getting people across the community to join the police.”

Michelle O’Neill
Michelle O’Neill pledged to represent ‘our whole community’ as she became the first nationalist First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP MLA and the party’s Policing Board group leader Trevor Clarke said the decision was overdue but welcome.

“The PSNI was formed in November 2001 therefore whilst late and long overdue, it is good that Sinn Fein has lifted its boycott of PSNI passing out ceremonies,” he said.

“The PSNI has struggled to recruit people from a Roman Catholic background and at least one previous chief constable cited a lack of political leadership within the nationalist community. Undoubtedly Sinn Fein’s lack of support of PSNI recruits was a contributing factor.”