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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Police recruits mark 'new beginning'
The new recruits graduated in Belfast
The new recruits graduated at Garnerville in Belfast
The Police Service of Northern Ireland must truly represent the communities it serves, its acting chief constable has said.

Colin Cramphorn told the first batch of 44 new recruits graduating in Belfast on Friday that they marked the start of an ongoing process.

Mr Cramphorn said: "You, and those who follow you, will contribute towards a substantial realignment in our staff profile so that we more truly represent the communities we endeavour to serve."

The recruits were the first trained specifically for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, following the changeover from the Royal Ulster Constabulary last November.

The uniform carries the service's new badge
The uniform carries the service's new badge

Under the programme of sweeping changes to policing, in order to start changing the make-up of the predominantly Protestant force, the new recruits were selected on a quota basis of 50% Catholics and 50% Protestants and people of other denominations.

Former chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who oversaw the police service changeover, said the process had gone "remarkably well".

"This is a chance for a new beginning and it is a chance for the public to get behind the police - the public from all traditions, all backgrounds, all cultures," he said.

All of Northern Ireland's main political parties attended the graduation ceremony at the Garnerville training college in Belfast, apart from Sinn Fein, which has refused to endorse the new service.

Garda controversy

However, unionist politicians reacted angrily to the role given to the Irish Republic's police chief, Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne, at the ceremony.

They had warned they would boycott the ceremony if Mr Byrne was given a formal role. This was not on the agenda, but Sir Ronnie invited Mr Byrne to speak.

The Democratic Unionist Party's Ian Paisley junior said: "This ceremony was hijacked. There was no scripting in of a position for the garda officer.

DUP's Ian Paisley junior:
DUP's Ian Paisley junior: "Ceremony hijacked"
"It was not balanced. There was no national flag or anthem from our country and yet we had a garda officer here blessing the troops as they go out to serve Northern Ireland.

"I was lied to and brought here under false pretences and I think a lot of people will be angry at the way this has been mismanaged."

Ulster Unionist assembly member Fred Cobain said: "I am disappointed that Ronnie Flanagan tried to embarrass us today.

"He knew how sensitive this issue was. We have been discussing this for about three weeks. To invite Pat Byrne here to speak is an embarrassment for us.

Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain:
Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain: "Embarrassing"

"But I don't think this as an issue should take away from the day. It was a great day for the new recruits and their families and I'm happy to be here at the start of the new dispensation for policing."

Alex Attwood of the nationalist SDLP said: "The garda have been involved in the PSNI training, the garda and the police co-operate in 101 ways.

"It is appropriate to characterise that by having speeches from police officers north and south."

New uniform

Policing Board chairman Professor Desmond Rea said the changes had been positive.

He said: "We, in the Policing Board, in partnership with the Police Service, are beginning to tackle the issues at the heart of policing here and we believe we can look to the future with great confidence."

SDLP Alex Attwood:
SDLP Alex Attwood: "Garda involvement appropriate"

As the new recruits graduated, the new Police Service of Northern Ireland uniforms were being worn on the streets by officers for the first time.

The uniforms include the new PSNI badge and officers are also to start wearing name badges while on duty.

The changes to policing in Northern Ireland followed a report from Chris Patten's policing commission, which made more than 175 recommendations, after being set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

The new PSNI flag was also unfurled on Friday.

BBC NI chief security correspondent Brian Rowan:
"It was the day for the class of 2002 to put its best foot forward"
Professor Desmond Rea, Chairman NI Policing Board
"Policing is an important issue"
See also:

05 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
PSNI recruitment 'historic' says SDLP
27 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Name badges part of new uniforms
27 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Row over NI police graduation
12 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Police recruitment 'will be 50:50'
04 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
'New era' as NI police change name
05 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Picture gallery: NI police graduate
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