Confusion reigns over Belfast RIR parade
There was confusion last night over whether or not Belfast will be hosting a homecoming parade for soldiers returning from the frontline in Afghanistan.
Events will take place in Lisburn at the end of May, with the possibility of others being staged in Enniskillen, Bangor and Ballymena.
However, Defence Secretary Liam Fox is understood to have backed a call for a Belfast parade in a letter to Ian Paisley jnr MP.
“The homecoming parade has not been discussed at any of the council’s committees or a request to hold a reception been received,” a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said yesterday.
More than 1,000 soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards complete their six-month tour of duty in Helmand and begin returning to their bases in England from the end of this month.
In 2008 more than 30,000 people lined the streets of the city centre to welcome 250 service personnel back after a six-month stint in Helmand. It was the first time British soldiers had marched through Belfast since the Second World War.
However, a huge security operation costing millions of pounds was mounted to keep republican protesters and loyalists separated.
Senior sources within the Royal Irish Regiment as well as rank-and-file soldiers have privately expressed a wish to march through Belfast city centre.
But it is believed the decision has been taken out of their hands by the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Defence officials.
Last night an MoD spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: “The Royal Irish Regiment is currently completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan and is rightly focused on their safe return.
“A number of events are being planned to mark their return from theatre, not only for the Royal Irish but also all other personnel.”