For the first time officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will march in the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The six officers, who plan to march alongside the Republic of Ireland’s police, An Garda Síochána, are already being urged by gay rights campaigners to boycott the New York parade over the fact that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups are barred from marching as a group under a banner.
The PSNI officers were invited to join the parade by the organizing committee following their participation in the World Police and Fire Games held in Belfast in 2013.
The six officers visiting New York will be led by a chief inspector. They will march in uniform alongside a few dozen gardaí, in what is being described as a show of mutual respect
Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said, "We are delighted to have six officers in New York representing the PSNI and participating in the St. Patrick's Day Parade."
Politicians from Northern Ireland and the Republic will be arriving in New York for St Patrick’s Day. Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny will take part in events to celebrate Ireland's patron saint. Before coming to New York they will be in Washington at the White House, where they plan to discuss progress towards peace and prosperity.
Back in New York views remain divided on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio and visiting Irish cabinet minister Joan Burton have opted to boycott the parade over the LGBT right issue.
Veteran Northern Irish gay rights activist Jeff Dudgeon told the Guardian that the PSNI’s participation in the New York event "sends a discordant symbol to the gay community in Belfast who have stood in solidarity for many years with our brothers and sisters in New York over their exclusion on St Patrick's Day."
He said, "It is rather disheartening given the fact that de Blasio has decided not to attend, but the PSNI's need for acceptance in the States would always have taken precedence.
"In truth the police's commitment to effective responses to LGBT needs in Northern Ireland will be the measure that matters, and the jury is still out in that department, although advances have been made. It is in relation to anti-gay violence that the PSNI has been found wanting in sustained, protective policing."