Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill attended at a police recruitment event in Northern Ireland today.

Ms O'Neill's made an appearance at the PSNI's training college amid efforts to encourage more young nationalists to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Police commanders did not know until less than an hour before her arrival that Sinn Féin's Northern Ireland leader would be attending the launch of the campaign to recruit 600 new officers.

She joined DUP First Minister Arlene Foster as they posed for photographs with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne holding up posters promoting the PSNI as a positive career choice.

Sinn Féin had previously been accused of not doing enough to advocate policing as a career.

But Ms O'Neill said she wanted to achieve a police service that was more representative of the community it serves.

She said: "Clearly the PSNI have launched a very significant, intensive, recruitment campaign and we are here because it is no secret that nationalists are unrepresentative in the police service, that Catholics are under-represented in the police service and, if we are going to have a police service that commands community confidence, then it needs to be reflective of the community it serves, so we are here because of that reason."

Mr Byrne said: "I think it's seismic and historic in terms of the history of the PSNI and the commitment we have heard from Sinn Féin today, and indeed all political leaders who have joined us in this launch."

He added: "We have called for that support in the past and now people have stood up to that challenge and stepped forward and are encouraging people to join the PSNI, so I think it's an historic day not just for policing but for Northern Ireland." 

Ms O'Neill said she wanted to see a return of the controversial 50:50 positive discrimination tool that ensures the PSNI recruits Catholics and Protestants in equal numbers.

She said steps also needed to be taken to address under-representation of women and members of ethnic minorities.

Asked if she would encourage young Catholics to join the police, Ms O'Neill replied: "I think the fact that I am here today speaks volumes in terms of what I am trying to do. We need a PSNI that is reflective of the community in which it serves."

She highlighted that only one out of every five Catholics who apply for the PSNI are successful. "There is a big issue here in terms of Catholics being successful in the recruitment process," she added.

Mrs Foster welcomed the Sinn Féin move.

"I think it is important because there have been a lot of conversations about the fact that we need to have a police service that reflects Northern Ireland society so I think it's important that, as leaders, we show leadership and come along to these events to support our police service, so that is significant and I very much welcome it," she said.

She said the fact there were representatives from across society at the event sent a "very powerful message".

Mrs Foster said it was the "next step" in Sinn Féin's journey in supporting the police.

"We had been concerned that there hadn't been members coming along to recruitment and indeed graduation ceremonies, so I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin are here today because I think it sends out a good message," she said.