Republicans last night confirmed that they are set to mount a protest at next Saturday’s parade in Antrim for the colleagues of two soldiers murdered at Massereene army base in March.
High-level security will be in place in the town next weekend as troops from 38 Engineer Regiment march through the town in a half-hour parade to the barracks at midday.
Eirigi spokesman Eamann MacManais said: “We have been consistent in our peaceful protests against the army even though the barriers against the protests have been quite forthright and quite stringent.
“For example, on the Armed Forces Day the RUC blocked the road at Castle Street and blocked shoppers going into the town as well as peaceful protestors going into the town just for the case of a flag being raised at the City Hall.
“We in Eirigi have actively opposed the homecoming parade, which we see as a cover, a way of normalisation of the British Army’s presence in the six counties and their presence in other areas throughout the world.
“The British troops still aren’t welcome here in Ireland. There’s 5,000 troops here in the north of Ireland who are not welcome and any attempt to normalise the British army’s presence here or throughout the world is cynical and is being opposed by Eirigi.”
Colin Duffy was among the frontline republicans in Eirigi’s protest at the homecoming parade through Belfast city centre last year.
Duffy, 41, was charged with the murder of sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and 21-year-old Patrick Azimkar in what was the deadliest attack in the province in more than a decade. The group said after he was arrested for the murders that he was longer a member.
South Antrim MP William McCrea said: “I do believe that soldiers who have served the United Kingdom bravely with great distinction and have gone into the very heart of the world’s troublespot in Afghanistan, that they should be appropriately received by the people of the United Kingdom.
“And as their base has been in Antrim, that would certainly be a great honour to the people of Antrim that they came back and were recognised.
“I believe it would be important for the soldiers but I also do believe it’s important for the people of Northern Ireland also to show them how we deeply appreciate their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their colleagues before they left to go on service in Afghanistan in the murder of the two soldiers.
“And therefore I do think that is a very fitting way, in a quiet and very dignified way, to just express our appreciation to them for their courage and their dilligence to duty.”
It is understood that the familes of the two murdered soldiers will be flying to Ulster for the event. Mark Quinsey’s sister Jaime has condemned his killers as ‘cowards’.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Antrim Council have graciously invited members of 38 Regiment to the civic Forum to mark their return following the widespread cross-community outcry after the murders of the young sappers.
“The 38 Regiment are part of the Corps of Engineers, who were given the Freedom of the Borough of Antrim in the eighties, so they will move back to barracks for the medal parade, not as a homecoming parade but as exercising as Freemen of the Borough, so this is not a triumphalist parade by any stretch of the imagination.”