By Gráinne Ní Aodha (PA)
Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill is to attend a PSNI graduation ceremony in a break from the Sinn Fein practice of turning down such invites.
Policing Board member and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly will also attend the event on Friday as party members appear at a passing out ceremony for the first time since the foundation of the PSNI more than 20 years ago.
Efforts have been made over the years to boost Catholic representation in the PSNI.
The targeting of Catholic officers by dissident republicans has been a key factor in falling numbers of applications from members of the nationalist community.
In 2020, Ms O’Neill became the first senior Sinn Fein figure to attend a recruitment campaign launch for the PSNI, posing with posters showing policing as a positive career choice.
The move was welcomed at the time by the then chief constable Simon Byrne, who described it as “seismic and historic”.
DUP politicians welcomed Ms O’Neill’s planned attendance at the passing out ceremony on Friday, but said it was “overdue” and urged Sinn Fein to play a more active role in PSNI recruitment.
“Twenty-three years later, it is better late than never,” DUP MP Gregory Campbell said on Thursday.
Ms O’Neill’s attendance at the PSNI College on Friday morning comes after she pledged to be a leader for all.
As she became the first nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland last Saturday, she vowed to represent “our whole community” and described the region as “a changing portrait”.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said in a statement to the PA news agency: “Tomorrow the PSNI student officer attestation takes place where a number of new recruits will graduate.
“Michelle O’Neill will be in attendance and will join the ceremony. Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly MLA will also attend.”