President Mary McAleese today launched a blistering attack on dissident republicans as she took the stand at a passing out parade for new police officers in Belfast.
She said the recruits would be enthusiastically welcomed by the majority of the population in Northern Ireland but she warned they were still “vulnerable” to attack.
Prof McAleese is from Ardoyne in north Belfast, which earlier this month saw days of rioting after a disputed Orange Order parade through the area.
She said the 41 PSNI graduating constables at the police training college had been given a resounding vote of support by their senior commanders.
“On this day we think with respect of all those who have honoured that trust, those who have paid with their lives and their health, and the families that live today with loss and heartache,” she said.
“We think of you, today‘s graduates, holders of that trust, commencing your careers, welcomed enthusiastically by the vast majority of citizens, still vulnerable to the tiny minority of wreckers who have set their faces against the humanly decent dynamic of this peace.”
This is Mrs McAleese‘s second time at a PSNI graduation ceremony, the first being in January this year.
She told the new officers, who were also congratulated by PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott and members of the Policing Board, that they faced real challenges.
“You face a local context of ongoing sectarianism and inter-communal strife but against an encouraging backdrop where so many people at community level are trying hard to turn the tide of history in favour of this precious peace,” she said.
“Today you join the journey into peace not as passive spectators but as active leaders.”
The PSNI was established in 2001 following a 1999 report by a commission led by Chris Patten which overhauled policing in the North.
The PSNI‘s predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, faced opposition from some nationalists and lost 303 officers during the conflict with republican and loyalist paramilitaries.
PSNI constable Stephen Carroll, 48, was killed by the Continuity IRA last year and others have been injured by paramilitaries since then.
Mrs McAleese said there was also support for the PSNI from the Gardaí, with Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy branding an attack on one force an attack on both earlier this year.
The President added that the oath the new recruits took today pledged them to discharge their duties with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, affording equal respect to all individuals and upholding fundamental human rights.
“The words of that oath were carefully chosen and reflect what the people of Northern Ireland expect of their police officers not just today but every single day of your professional career,” she added.
“Now you are ready to live the life you have been imagining in your college days. You will be police officers in a jurisdiction and on an island that is reimagining itself with a positivity and optimism no other generation has known.
“You are sacred custodians of this time and of the future that, with your help, will fill what John Hewitt called so memorably ‘the centuries’ arrears‘.”