The attendance of Sinn Féin politicians at a PSNI police recruitment drive in the Six Counties has angered republican groups.
Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill joined DUP First Minister Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Simon Byrne and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly at an event in east Belfast on Tuesday morning. Ms O’Neill posed for pictures holding posters advocating the PSNI as a “positive” career choice.
The Irish Republican Socialist Party urged young people to maintain their boycott of the force (previously the RUC) because it still targets young nationalists.
“We ask young people, if you want to make a positive difference in your community; get actively involved in community groups and youth groups or join a political movement that has positive vision for the future,” they said.
IRSP activist and West Belfast spokesperson Dan Ó Murchú said that, “The PSNI are led and directed by British military intelligence as per the 2006 St Andrews Agreement. The priority for the PSNI in any working-class nationalist area is intelligence gathering”.
The IRSP have consistently highlighted concerns regarding the PSNI. They said they share the objective of the RUC -- to maintain the status quo and carry out an anti-republican, anti-working class agenda.
“We have all witnessed recently, anti-community elements constantly causing anti-social chaos in broad daylight in working class areas, who seem to never get reprimanded,” he said.
The IRSP also criticised those from the nationalist community that are publicly supporting the recent recruitment drive “at a time when the PSNI are proactively attempting to cover up collusion that caused terror and death in nationalist areas.
“We ask young people, if you want to make a positive difference in your community; get actively involved in community groups and youth groups or join a political movement that has positive vision for the future. The PSNI are a negative and armed echo of the past who have no role in our future.”
Sinn Féin has said it will also attend PSNI graduation ceremonies in addition to recruitment events.
Ms O’Neill said she wanted to see a police force that was more representative of the community it serves. She said her attendance at the recruitment launch “speaks volumes” about the development of her party’s position.
“Clearly the PSNI have launched a very significant, intensive recruitment campaign and we are here because it is no secret that nationalists are under-represented in the police service, that Catholics are under-represented in the police service and, if we are going to have a police service that commands community confidence, then it needs to be reflective of the community it serves, so we are here because of that reason,” she said.
The PSNI hailed Ms O’Neill’s attendance at the event as “seismic and historic”, while the DUP said it was the next step in Sinn Féin’s “journey”.
Saoradh member Alan Lundy, whose murdered father was the victim of collusion between the RUC and loyalists, said it had been predicted that Sinn Fein would seek “to normalise the Crown Forces”.
“This is the natural outworking of that agenda,” he said. “No longer can their grassroots members divorce themselves from this reality. Their continued involvement in Sinn Féin is proof that they too support recruitment to a force that is guilty of collusion.”
Breandán Duffy, whose brother Séamus was killed by an RUC plastic bullet in 1989, said the PSNI/RUC had never provided justice for his family.
“To see Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly posing with posters and asking our young people to ‘make a career’ of joining the PSNI is a slap in the face to us and other families like ours. Families that buried their young, robbed of seeing them make anything of their lives.”
Local Saoradh representative Dee Fennell praised the two relatives of victims in his north Belfast area for speaking out.
“Changing the name, changing the uniform and changing the religious demographic of this Crown Force makes no difference,” he said.
“They remain the frontline force of occupation, directed by MI5. The PSNI continue their campaign of harassment and intimidation against people in Ardoyne, The Bone and beyond. Sinn Féin’s actions today are beneath contempt and confirm them to be a quisling party of collaboration.”
But Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein’s representative for the area, said the PSNI must be representative of the whole community it serves.
“There is responsibility on the PSNI Chief Constable, Policing Board and politicians to ensure there is a proper civic, community policing service.”
He also called for a return of a policy which dictates that half of recruits to the PSNI should be Catholic.
“The PSNI needs to attract more recruits from a nationalist background, women, members of the LGBT community and those who have come to make their home here.”