Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Massive security operation for Army homecoming parade

Police will be on high alert in Belfast today with hundreds of republican protesters set to demonstrate at a contentious Armed Services homecoming parade.

One of the biggest security operations in recent years is being undertaken by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure the event passes off peacefully.

While both the army and the organisers of a Sinn Fein protest made concessions on Friday in a bid to ease tensions, fears remain that loyalist and republican extremists could infiltrate proceedings and cause trouble.

Sinn Fein agreed to change the route of its demonstration in order to avoid any possible confrontation with parade supporters descending on the city from unionist areas.

The move followed an announcement by the army's General Commanding Officer (GOC) in the region Major General Chris Brown that a scheduled RAF flyby was to be cancelled.

However, dissident republican elements opposed to powersharing at Stormont are still planning to protest at locations where parade followers could pass.

And with reports that hard line loyalists and even English fascists intend to join the crowds of supporters, there will be a strong police presence on the streets.

Republicans of all shades are opposed to an event that will mark the return of soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

They claim it is inappropriate given the fact the British Army was responsible for the deaths of Catholic civilians during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Unionists, however, believe the army has every right to walk the streets of Belfast and have expressed disappointment that the changes to the parade will mean local troops will effectively receive a different welcome home than soldiers in the rest of the UK.

Sinn Fein Assemblyman Gerry Kelly said: "We will not allow any group – either so-called dissident republican or some loyalist elements or English fascists – to hijack the protest of the victims of British state violence.

"The history of the British Army in Ireland is one of great cruelty and hurt.

"Victims of collusion and British state violence are particularly offended and incensed by Sunday's march.

"The Sinn Fein protest on Sunday is intended to highlight our opposition and to do so in a peaceful and dignified way."

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey welcomed Sinn Fein's decision to change the route of its protest which he said will reduce tension.

"We are all keen to have tension reduced but we have to remember where that tension came from in the first place – the totally unnecessary Sinn Fein counter-protest," he said.

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