Despite some insisting that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) should not participate in this year’s Belfast Pride event, around 40 uniformed officers from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and other UK police forces were among the 8,000 people who marched yesterday from Custom House Square in the city centre.
Watched by an estimated 15,000 supporters, it was the biggest parade to take place in the region this year, and the first in which the PSNI participated.
According to this report, The PSNI had received some criticism for allowing officers to join the parade, with accusations that their participation would undermine the organisation’s stated neutrality.
Ahead of the event, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted the organisation’s neutrality would not be compromised by allowing officers to take part in an event where other participants were demanding “societal change”.
However, he said in a radio interview that the PSNI was “unlikely” to allow uniformed officers to take part in a hypothetical Christian march expressing a view that homosexuality was a sin.
Also in attendance at the start of the event was the openly-gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, above, who said it is “only a matter of time” before same-sex marriage is introduced in Northern Ireland.
Varadkar told crowds outside the Northern Whig in Belfast that he:
Was not here to unsettle anyone. But I am here to state my support and my government’s support for equality before the law and individual freedom for all citizens wherever they may reside.
The DUP, which opposes same-sex marriage, had raised no opposition to his attendance at the event, but across the street a group of Free Presbyterian staged a protest.
The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) added:
Difference makes us stronger and that’s something I believe in and something that I think can mark Northern Ireland out in the future. I totally appreciate that this it is an issue for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but we need an assembly up and running.
He also said he was pleased that the PSNI and Gardaí (Irish police) would be marching in the parade in uniform for the first time.
Doesn’t that say something really good about Northern Ireland and the way it has developed as a society in the past 10 or 20 years?
At the beginning of July, Canon Charles Kenny, who has been a Church of Ireland priest for almost 50 years, branded Northern Ireland’s ban on gay marriage as unjust and un-Christian.
He compared the opposition to same-sex marriage in the region to the historical hostility to mixed religious unions on the island of Ireland.
Kenny was joined by Methodist and Presbyterian ministers in calling for gay marriage to be legalised. The Democratic Unionist party, which now formally supports Theresa May’s minority government, has consistently blocked moves towards marital equality.
Speaking on the steps of St Anne’s, the city’s Anglican cathedral – surrounded by gay rights campaigners, trade unionists and human rights organisations – Kenny said:
There was lots of lobbying against mixed religious marriages and nowadays we are all embarrassed about that. And I think in the future we will also be embarrassed about this ban on same sex marriage.