29/04/2011

Army Welcome Parade 'May Still Take Place'

Supporters of a proposed 'Welcome Home' parade in Belfast for Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) and Irish Guard soldiers who recently returned from service in Afghanistan are hoping for a U-turn after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was revealed to be planning a meeting with hosts, Belfast City Council next week.

Despite refusing the initial invitation from the Council, there are to be discussions on holding a homecoming parade after all, especially as three soldiers from the RIR were killed during the Afghanistan operation, which began last September.

Ranger Aaron McCormick, 22, from Macosquin in Co Londonderry, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in November last year.

Ranger David Dalzell, 20, from Bangor was shot in February. The exact circumstances of his death have not yet been confirmed.

Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, 27, from Banbridge, was killed by an IED in March.

Secretary of State for Defence Dr Liam Fox said it was a "kind invitation" but a parade was "not the best way to proceed".

"We will consult the city council and other parties in the coming days about how we can best mark their commitment in another form," he added, noting that a service of thanksgiving will be held at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on 22 May.

There was outrage last week when the MoD turned down an invitation from the council to stage a homecoming parade in Belfast on May 22.

The MoD wrote to the Council and said its soldiers are also too "geographically dislocated" to be able to get the parade organised in time, despite the fact that many will be attending a thanksgiving service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on the same day that the Council had suggested.

The DUP has already appealed - on Wednesday - to PM David Cameron for a rethink.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said afterwards that no final decision had been made and that discussions are ongoing.
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"I will certainly be continuing to work towards a successful outcome on this issue and I will be pressing the government at Westminster to move as swiftly as possible to come to a resolution," he said.

The last such event - in November 2008 - was marred by republican counter-demonstrations that necessitated a huge police presence.

Earlier this month, a socialist organization that aims to achieve the 'liberation of the people of Ireland', éirígí, said it would actively oppose any such march.

Pádraic Mac Coitir has pledged that the socialist republican party will stage counterdemonstrations.

"The nationalist and republican people of Belfast are sick, sore and tired of having all the trappings of British imperialism flown in their faces.

"We will not stand idly by and watch war criminals being paraded through our streets."

However, Robin Newton, an East Belfast DUP candidate and former Junior Minister in the Assembly said at the time, all those who are family, friends and supporters of the RIR will be glad the RIR has returned to the UK.

"The regiment will be enthusiastically welcomed home but for the three families who lost loved ones the return home celebrations will be painful.

"We must pay tribute and never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We need to remember their sacrifices that have been made on our behalf and for freedoms that we often take for granted," he said at the time.

The DUP's Ian Paisley said yesterday: "I absolutely have no doubt the soldiers and their families would want to pass through the capital city of Northern Ireland.

"They would have tremendous support from people in the community.

"It sends a terrible signal to refuse to allow a homecoming parade. It is raising the white flag to dissidents

See: RIR Afghanistan Parade Opposed

(BMcC/GK)

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