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The Police Service’s Strategic Community Engagement Team (SCET) hosted a Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) Event at Newforge in Belfast on 02 August 2023 with stakeholder organisations from across the LGBTQ+ sector and political representatives.

The organisations in attendance were Belfast Pride, Cara-Friend, HERe NI, Mermaids NI Service, Rainbow Project, Rainbow Refugees, and Transgender NI. In addition, Policing Board member Nuala McAllister MLA (Alliance), Cllr Micky Murray (Alliance), Cllr Séamas de Faoite (SDLP) and Cllr Anthony Flynn (Green Party) also joined the meeting.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton delivered a PowerPoint presentation detailing the rationale around the Service’s decision not to participate in the Belfast Pride parade in uniform before a discussion took place around street preaching. The summary below captures the main issues raised, including actions requiring further follow up with attendees which are being taken forward by the Strategic Community Engagement Team.

Pride Decision

  • ACC Singleton opened the meeting with a round of introductions made by those present. Policing Board member Nuala McAllister MLA queried whether the LGBT Network had been invited to attend with the ACC responding that efforts were made to secure a separate meeting in advance of this but that this did not suit the Network and the offer remains open for a full explanation of the decision to them. Cllr Séamas de Faoite expressed his disappointment that the Chief Constable was not present at the meeting, highlighting that the attendees felt “utterly disrespected” by his absence. ACC Singleton explained that the Chief Constable already had a period of leave arranged and that his preference was to proceed with the meeting rather than potentially risk delaying it for several weeks. He also highlighted that it was appropriate for an Assistant Chief Constable to deal with this in the first instance given his role as Gold Commander for Pride and Police Service lead for community engagement.
  • ACC Singleton took the group through the PowerPoint presentation around the various considerations taken into account in decision making around Police participation in Belfast Pride. Questions were raised around the timing of the decision and whether the Service was “pressured” into withdrawing from the parade. Concerns were also highlighted around the ‘Participation in Events’ framework being developed by the Service. ACC Singleton explained that a decision was taken to review the organisation’s approach in order to ensure fairness and consistency following a request by the Ethnic Minority Police Association (EMPA) to participate in Mela in 2022. He also assured attendees that the ‘Stand by Your Trans’ theme was not a factor in any decision making.
  • Attendees also asked whether the LGBT Network could have participated in the Belfast Pride parade in t-shirts and ACC Singleton explained that a request was not made to wear t-shirts by the Network with the decision making process only beginning once a request is received by the Service Executive Team. Suggestions were made from a number of organisations that this was unfair as the Network did not believe that there was a need to ask for additional permission given that this was never required between 2018 and 2022. The ACC accepted this. It was also contended that the “first the Network heard about the decision was through the media”. ACC Singleton clarified that the Chief Constable had in fact informed the interim Co-Chair of the Network first in person before the wider organisation and then stakeholders in the wider LGBTQ+ community but there was “a collapsing timeframe” once the decision had been taken.
  • A discussion took place around Pride being described as a “protest parade” and the wider implications of this for Police impartiality. Concerns were also raised around Police officers and staff from the LGBTQ+ community who feel “let down by the timing of the decision and how it was communicated” as well as the potential impact on attraction and recruitment for the longer term. The Rainbow Project queried whether it was a mistake for the Service to have participated in previous Pride parades with ACC Singleton highlighting that it will never be a mistake to show solidarity with LGBTQ+ colleagues and the community but that in future this will be demonstrated in other ways rather than through participation in a protest parade, such as stalls in the Pride Village and other events, which do not engage the same impartiality considerations. Queries were also raised around the approach taken by other Police forces with ACC Singleton highlighting that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) advises that this is a matter for individual Chief Constables, adding that the existence of a Parades Commission in NI creates “additional complexity” which does not exist in other parts of the UK.


ACC Singleton agreed that the PowerPoint presentation could be provided to attendees once it had been shared with the Northern Ireland Policing Board (see attached). SCET to also work with the LGBTQ+ stakeholder organisations to identify other ways for the Police Service to display support for the community beyond participation in the parade.

Street Preaching

  • The issue of street preaching in Belfast was raised with a Belfast Pride representative highlighting concerns that the city centre has been “surrendered to hate preachers”. It was noted that problems associated with preachers have escalated over the last two years with six preachers currently active in the area who are “challenging and harassing people on a daily basis at times”. The role of Police in addressing street preaching was raised following the incident ahead of Belfast Pride on 29 July with footage widely shared on social media of a street preacher making comments which are currently the subject of an investigation.
  • Belfast Pride also contended that there appeared to be no plan in place to protect people involved in the parade or the preachers despite concerns raised previously on a number of occasions with the Service. HERe NI highlighted that community 
    organisations are being left to “pick up the pieces” but without being adequately resourced to do so. ACC Singleton noted that there are complexities around freedom of expression and religion but challenged the suggestion “that we have done nothing”, highlighting that the Service is willing to discuss possible solutions.
  • A discussion took place around the circumstances of the incident involving the street preacher on 29 July. Attendees queried whether there is a line at which Police “will stop the preaching”. ACC Singleton noted that it is standard procedure for officers to gather evidence and review it during a protest but there are also circumstances where an intervention will be appropriate. A number of other incidents were also raised by attendees with ACC Singleton explaining the challenges officers face in balancing human rights considerations. Recent media coverage from Belfast Live stating that the Service “refused to release figures on the number of reports received regarding street preachers” in Belfast between 2018 and 2023 was also discussed with ACC Singleton highlighting the need for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to be refined in order to allow for the release of the relevant information.


Commitment provided by ACC Singleton to conduct a full review into the approach taken to dealing with street preachers in Belfast, including the incident on 29 July. A further engagement will also take place on this issue once the review is complete with a date to be arranged in the coming weeks. Please note interim guidance has already been produced both internally and externally to assist in outlining the policing approach when dealing with all parties.