Belfast ring of steel for military tattoo to counter dissidents
A huge security operation is expected today amid fears that dissident republicans could target a mini tattoo event designed to recognise soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan.
Hundreds of troops from the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards will be taking part in the Military Review and Drumhead Service at Balmoral Showgrounds this afternoon.
A ring of steel is likely to be set up around King’s Hall after hardline republicans from Republican Network for Unity and eirigi threatened to protest at the event.
Eirigi spokesman Breandán Mac Cionnaith said his organisation would be “actively opposing” the review, which he branded an “insult” to nationalists.
Earlier this year the Ministry of Defence came under pressure to stage a public event in Belfast after an invitation from the city council for a full military parade through the city was declined.
More than 2,000 people, including families of serving soldiers, staged protests and signed petitions calling for a parade.
At the time defence chiefs cited “post-operational commitments” as the reason for the refusal.
However, security sources claim cost implications and the increasing threat from dissident terrorists influenced the decision.
In 2008 around 30,000 people turned out to welcome British servicemen and women onto the streets of the city.
But a multi-million pound security operation had to be launched to keep hardline loyalists and dissident republicans apart.
Both the RIR and Irish Guards formed part of 16 Air Assault Brigade deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province between last October and March.
Ranger Aaron McCormick (22) from Coleraine, Ranger David Dalzell (20) from Bangor and Lance Corporal Stephen McKee (27) from Banbridge, were killed. Three Irish Guards also died.
More than 3,500 free tickets have been issued for today’s event, which kicks off at 3pm.
Military personnel will be presented with medals by Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Ruth Patterson, a former UDR member.
In May homecoming parades for the RIR were held in Ballymena and Lisburn, with another in June in Carrickfergus for Armed Forces Day. Earlier this year Belfast City Council invited the MoD to stage a military parade.
The MoD declined, citing “post-operational commitments”. The Guards will parade in Newtownards and Castlereagh this weekend.