Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph at a coalition military base in Basra, Lieutenant Justin Kennedy-Lunde said: “We were contemplating having a homecoming parade in each of our three recruiting areas, Sussex, Birmingham and Belfast. To my knowledge we have never marched in Belfast and it would have been fantastic.
“The regiment was contemplating doing it but obviously the situation — with protests against the Royal Irish march and the recent shootings in Antrim of the two Royal Engineer soldiers — has affected our decision and it is now extremely unlikely.
“It's a shame. It would be absolutely amazing to march through Belfast."
The 29-year-old from Donegal added: “We are an Irish regiment and for a lot of our guys we have had to maintain a low profile throughout the Troubles but with normalisation we were hoping to have been able to have come out of the shadows and let the community know who were are and that we are part of the community.”
The front line soldiers serving in Iraq have also expressed shock and revulsion at the recent dissident republican targeting of security forces.
Added Lt Kennedy-Lunde: “I think it is an absolute tragedy for the families involved and also for the regiment, for the Royal Engineers. I have friends in that regiment and I know that the regiment itself is in shock.
“People over here are just in a state of disbelief. They can't |believe that there is still an element within the community that wants to return to violence and disrupt the peace process that has been so successful. There have been so many leaps and bounds. In particular, it was only last year that we had the memorial service for the end of Operation Banner.
“Soldiers expect to put their lives on the line in their duty but I think the tragedy was that these guys were about to go to Afghanistan where perhaps something like that would be expected — and not the day before they were due to get on the plane to go, in Antrim.”
Captain Richard Fraser (29) from Enniskillen added: “When I was home on my ‘R&R' in mid February I went home in uniform.
“I was proud to step off the plane in Belfast airport in my desert combats and know that I didn't have to keep my head down and didn't have to watch my back. Now if I go back I will constantly feel like I have got to hide.
“I think in general a shooting like that doesn't just affect boys from back home.
“All of the guys are gutted and like me they think it just a real shame that all the problems in Northern Ireland could resurface again.”
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