20/05/2011

Royal Irish Refuse Belfast Parade Invitation

Despite three regional parades taking place over the next week, soldiers attending a thanks-giving service in Belfast this weekend will not be permitted to parade on the streets of the capital.

Some 200 Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) soldiers will take to the streets of their former garrison town in Ballymena on Friday evening to formally exercise their freedom of the borough and be welcomed home from their tour in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, Lisburn City Council is to meet in special session to confer the freedom of the city on the RIR and the regiment will then parade through that city.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion TA who also served in Afghanistan will exercise the freedom of Castlereagh in a parade the following weekend, before moving to Hillsborough Castle for a ceremony with their families and friends in order to receive their medals.

In June, the RIR is also hosting a series of lectures both in Belfast and the North West to describe their contribution to developments within Afghanistan to a range of audiences.

The MoD also pointed out that the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment has already paraded near their (new) home base at Ternhill in Shropshire.

There the Council of Market Drayton has already voted to grant the regiment the freedom of the borough in a ceremony next year.

Protests
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However, an offer to march in Belfast was declined by the Ministry of Defence who said it had turned it down due to "post-operational duties".

Instead, on Saturday, the RIR will gather at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast for a thanksgiving and remembrance service.

This is widely seen as being because of disruption by republican protestors at a previous parade in 2008.

Despite direct intervention by local politicians to both the PM and Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, there was no last minute U-turn on the invitation from Belfast City Council being declined.

No comment is forthcoming from Belfast City Council, despite the original invite being penned by the Lord Mayor.

Press queries were refereed instead to "the politicians who sponsored the original City hall vote - the DUP".

The RIR lost three soldiers during their deployment in the Nad-e’Ali district of Helmand Province - Ranger Aaron McCormick from Macosquin and Lance Corporal Stephen McKee from Banbridge were killed in action and Ranger David Dalzell from Bangor who was killed in an operational accident.

On operation, the RIR Battlegroup mounted a series of offensive operations over six months throughout Nad-e’Ali to defeat the insurgency in the dense Canal Zone enabling the Afghan Government to deliver stabilisation and governance for their people.

See: Army Confirms 'No RIR Belfast Parade'

(BMcC/KMcA)

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