The first to raise the issue was the Ulster Unionist assembly member for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, after a photo of the recruit was published in the Police Gazette.
The recruit was pictured wearing what is often referred to as a “Black and Tan” medal, depicting a soldier of the 1917-21 period. Flanking the soldier are the arms of Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster.
Across the medal is the word “Eire” and below the inscription “Cogadh na Saoirse” (War of Independence).
A police spokesman said it was “an acceptable tradition for an officer to wear medals which have been awarded by a state to a close relative on their chest during appropriate ceremonies.
Elliott said, however, that allowing an IRA medal to be worn, “given the history of the police in fighting terrorism, was grossly insulting to the families of officers whose loved ones were murdered or maimed by the IRA.
“It is frankly disgusting and highly insensitive given the respected role of the police in holding the line against the IRA over many years. I am calling on the PSNI to ensure that this situation never happens again.
“They must take action to ensure that medals worn are appropriate, legitimate and obviously not of a paramilitary or terrorist nature,” Elliott said.
UUP Policing Board member Fred Cobain said he would be bringing up the case at its next meeting, calling the wearing of the medal “disgraceful.”
“We are keen to ensure that the memories of those policemen and women who were murdered and maimed by the IRA are never sullied again in this disgraceful manner,” he said.
DUP Fermanagh/South Tyrone Assembly member Arlene Foster said she was also deeply concerned. “It is quite simply offensive that a new police recruit should don a medal honoring the terrorists who have murdered so many police officers.
“I will be pursuing this matter through the appropriate channels,” she said. “DUP Policing Board members will be raising this incident as it is of paramount importance that this matter is dealt with.”
SDLP Policing spokesperson, Alex Attwood, however, said that unionism needs to recognize there are other traditions and histories on this island.
“The PSNI have made the policy governing these matters clear. The wearing of this medal was proper. Unionism has to come to accept that there is a different history on this island from theirs,” he said.
“One expression of this history was the award of medals in relation to the Irish War of Independence. The nationalist community increasingly recognizes and acknowledges the other histories on this island and their allegiances.
“That is the right thing to do. Unionism should adopt the same standard when it comes to nationalism on this island,” he said.
“The Irish War of Independence was a very different matter from the illegal, immoral and unjust use of violence by the Provisional movement. Unionism should have the wisdom and maturity to recognize this. The SDLP urges unionism to go in that direction,” Attwood said.