The Prime Minister has appealed for calm on the streets of Belfast this Sunday when republicans will protest against a homecoming parade for troops returning from Afghanistan.
Gordon Brown appealed for a “peaceful Sunday” during Question Time in the House of Commons yesterday amid concerns of heightened tensions at the weekend.
DUP leader Peter Robinson has been ferocious in his criticism of republican plans to protest, claiming they have made it even more difficult to break the deadlock that means Stormont’s executive has not meet since June.
Sinn Fein has said it will stage a peaceful protest, but dissident republican groups are to hold separate demonstrations, while unionist politicians have urged the public to come out to support the Royal Irish troops.
During question time in the Commons yesterday the DUP leader told the Prime Minister Sinn Fein had heightened tension across Northern Ireland with its “preposterous” decision.
“Would you join with me in welcoming a decision by the Army to organise a homecoming parade in the city of Belfast?” he said.
“Would you recognise that the troops, who have performed so well and so bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan from Northern Ireland come from both sections of our community?
“It becomes all the more preposterous the decision taken by Sinn Fein to run a counter parade and protest which has heightened tensions in Northern Ireland as a whole.
“Would you join with me in urging people in Northern Ireland to ensure that we have a peaceful Sunday, that everyone has due respect for the role that has been played by our brave troops, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan?
“Will you urge everyone to do nothing to drag us back to the bad old days?”
Mr Brown told MPs: “I want every Sunday to be a peaceful Sunday in Northern Ireland.
“I want us to work together to make sure that we can undertake the remaining stages of devolution that makes possible stability for the longer term.
“But I also agree with you that our troops, our Armed Forces, deserve the support of every community from which they come.
“Where there have been parades in different cities and towns in this country, not only have they been peaceful but large numbers of people have turned out because they want to give support to our troops and show that they have the confidence of the British people.”
But a spokesman for Sinn Fein said: “The British Ministry of Defence has organised and filed for this parade.
“Belfast is not like any other part of what he (Mr Brown) calls the United Kingdom. It is not as British as Finchley.”
The Sinn Fein spokesman said many people had suffered at the hands of British troops in Ireland.
“They are opposed to this coat-trailing exercise,” he said.
Earlier Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: “I very publicly want to acknowledge that the families of the soldiers involved are pleased to see their loved ones return from a dangerous situation. This is very understandable and acceptable.
“But the decision by the British Ministry of Defence to organise a military parade through Belfast city centre is totally unacceptable.”
A breakaway republican group opposed to Sinn Fein's policies and its support for policing has said it will also stage a demonstration on Sunday.
A spokesman for the group Eirigi — Irish for “rise up” —called for supporters to turn out in large numbers to oppose the parade.