My name is Joanne Laird and I am a Sergeant in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, living and working in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. I started at Victoria College Belfast in September 1979 aged 9, having moved with my family from Londonderry. I became a boarder in September 1981 and remained at “Vic” until finishing my A levels in June 1989. I loved my time at school, playing “goalie” for the hockey team, running the film club, even having to wear your uniform, to go to church on a Sunday morning!
Between 1989 and 1992 I completed a degree course in “Human Communication” at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, then managed an off license in Lisburn until September 1993.
I joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in October 1993 successfully completed my training and passed out in April 1994, in the first squad ever to have armed female Officers! I was posted to Omagh in County Tyrone, bought a house in Enniskillen. I got promoted to Enniskillen in April 1999.
Throughout my career so far I have had an amazing number of opportunities; I spent 9 months working with CID on the Omagh Bomb investigation, which was such an intense, fascinating and sometimes harrowing experience. I have lied for up to 10 days with colleagues in the back of a landrover at the height of the Drumcree protests in Portadown, been involved in rioting (only on the police side, I might add) at the Harryville Church protests in Ballymena, flown around in helicopters with the Army, been set on fire whilst riot training, sped up and down Lough Erne in the police boat and was awarded a Chief Constable’s Commendation for my investigation into an fatal road traffic collision. In 2000/2001, I spent 12 months in Kosovo working as a United Nations Peacekeeper, along with 82 other RUC colleagues plus Police and Non-Governmental Organisations from across the world, including countries I have never heard of. We lived in the local houses and worked with all sides of their communities, Serbian, Albanian and the Romani Gypsies. It was an amazing year, during which I met so many fantastic and inspiring people, also my Geography improved immensely (My VCB Geography teacher Mrs Pendry, would be so proud!)
In 2001, the RUC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland and over the last 15 years we have gone all high tech with our computer systems. When I joined the police, everything was all hand written and there was not a computer in sight (I kid you not, and I don’t consider myself to be old, even if I did grow up with only 3 channels on the telly!) In 2012 with Fermanagh being the most Western part of the United Kingdom, I had the immense pleasure of being able to hold the Olympic Flame on Lough Erne and in 2013 we had an incredible number of months, and then a manic 2 days, as the 8 most powerful leaders in the world arrived in Enniskillen for the G8 Summit. There was a temporary police station, built within the lough erne Golf Resort complex and I worked in it maintaining the integrity and security of the site for the months up to and during the summit. It was an amazing piece of history to have been a part of, memories I shall never forget.
Of course my job isn’t everything in my life, I love to travel and have visited many countries. I’ve stood on the Great Wall of China, seen the terracotta warriors in Xian, visited the Taj Mahal and Mother Theresa’s hospital in India, swam in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, walked on the battle plains of the Falkland Islands, flown in a sea plane in Alaska, climbed the Dunn’s waterfall in Jamaica, swam with Stingrays in the Cayman Islands, visited the Titanic graves in Halifax, Nova Scotia, whale watched in New Zealand, toured the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, visited the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and ridden down the Grand Canyon on a Mule, to highlight but a few.
And so to now, I have no real plans to change anything in my life, I love the variety in my daily job, I love the camaraderie with my work colleagues and the freedom to travel the world, and when the weather in nice the beautiful scenery in County Fermanagh…..and all of this started, aged 9 in Victoria College Belfast!