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15/09/2011

Change Of Location For Troops Homecoming Parade

The Irish Guards and Royal Irish Regiment are to take part in a homecoming ceremony at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Showgrounds in October.

The Ministry of Defence turned down an initial offer from Belfast City Council for parade through the city, citing "post-operational duties."

The council's decision to approve the homecoming parade was also opposed by both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, who believe a city centre parade would be too contentious.

Despite the protests at a previous parade in 2008, up to 3,500 members of the public are expected to attend the service at the King's Hall.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has accused those opposed to the troops homecoming parade in Belfast city centre of having a "lack of tolerance" and called for more understanding of an event intended to commemorate the bravery of British troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Donaldson said that he believed they should have been allowed to parade through Belfast city centre, stating: "I think it is unfortunate that there are people in our society who lack the tolerance and respect for others.

"Really, if we are going to build a shared society in Northern Ireland we need to move to a place where people can have that tolerance and respect."

SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said the decision to have the event at Balmoral was a "good compromise" and that a city centre parade was too contentious.

He commented: "The problem is we have a divided community, we have different views of the British Army, we have different histories and to have a parade through the city centre, as we know the last time, simply raises community tensions.

"It causes a public order problem for the PSNI and really we should avoid that type of situation."

The event will include the presentation of commemorative medallions to military personnel by Belfast's deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Ruth Patterson.

MoD spokesman said: "This is a very respectful and meaningful event being hosted by Belfast City Council to recognise the valour and service of personnel from the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment on operations overseas.

"We have been in discussions and planning with Belfast City Council and this event is now possible through the good offices of Belfast and the availability of personnel at an appropriate time in their busy schedules."

(JG/GK)

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