31/10/2008

Flypast Grounded While SF 'Makes Changes'

There will be no aerial tribute for returning troops parading through Belfast this Sunday.

The parade to welcome home soldiers from dangerous service tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has met with opposition from Sinn Féin, which is staging a protest nearby, and as a result, the planned RAF flypast has been dropped from the forces homecoming parade - while the troops will march without rifles.

Despite an excellent weather outlook, the grey skies of Ulster politics have grounded the spectacle, with the most senior army officer here, Major General Chris Brown saying they were taking a number of measures to ensure the parade "does not increase the potential for friction".

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has also altered the protest - just a few hours after the news of the planned flypast being grounded and soldiers parading unarmed - the party has changed the route and times of its protest.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the change "would facilitate republicans and unionists being on the streets of Belfast in a peaceful way" on Sunday.

He said the parade would now begin on the Falls Road and the demonstration would take place at the junction of the Grosvenor Road and Fisherwick Place, close to where the parade is mustering, but some distance from the main review point at Belfast City Hall.
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The move was in response to earlier comments by the senior Army officer who said: "Earlier this week, I issued a special order to all military personnel taking part in the many events this weekend," he said.

"In that signal I stressed the significance and importance of being able to give thanks for the safe return of those who have served overseas.

"Equally, I emphasised the need for us to recognise that we do not have the undivided support of the wider community."

Major Brown, who is General Officer Commanding for Northern Ireland, said the measures "further underpin our appreciation of the sensitivities surrounding this element of the parade".

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the NI Policing Board, Professor Sir Desmond Rea, has joined the debate and expressed his hope that events on Sunday pass peacefully and without incident

Professor Sir Desmond Rea said: "This event has generated strong feelings right across the community and over the last week differing views have been expressed on the rights and wrongs of the parade and the planned protests.

"From a policing perspective, the PSNI have had to put in place a significant policing operation, with a large amount of resources being deployed to police this event.

"In this the police are responsible for protecting public safety and ensuring that the rights of all, paraders and protestors alike, are met.

"Whilst speculation has been mounting over the likelihood of trouble at the event it is my sincere hope that things pass off peacefully and without incident; and I urge all those involved to do all within their power to ensure that this is the case," he said.

(BMcC)

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