Dissidents urging supporters onto Belfast streets in protest at Justice for Veterans rally
A dissident republican group is calling for up to 1,000 of their supporters to take to the streets to confront a rally by former British soldiers in Belfast city centre.
The recently formed republican party, Saoradh, is calling for a "mass mobilisation" of nationalists from across Northern Ireland to oppose the event.
Unionist politicians last night branded Saoradh's plans as "outrageous" and said that the British Army veterans would be "welcomed with open arms" by the vast majority of people.
Justice for Veterans UK is to hold a rally at City Hall on Good Friday, April 14. The former soldiers, who served here during the Troubles, are demanding an end to the prosecution of ex-military personnel.
They claim that they are being subjected to "gross abuse and witch-hunts". The Belfast rally is timed to coincide with a similar protest in London.
However, Saoradh will today lodge an application with the Parades Commission to hold a counter march to City Hall to oppose the veterans' rally.
A spokesman for the dissident party said that it had been contacted by families whose relatives had been killed by the British Army. "Saoradh will be organising a mass mobilisation to demonstrate opposition to this charade that seeks to justify the killing of Irish citizens," he said.
"We shall assemble at the top of Castle Street, at exactly the same time as this pro-imperialist British Army event, and make our way to Belfast City Hall."
The spokesman claimed that Saoradh was offering a "peaceful, radical, and purposeful opportunity for the people of our city and further afield to resist this unwanted march".
However, North Belfast DUP Assembly candidate, Nelson McCausland, accused the dissidents of behaving disgracefully.
"Most people will be outraged by this intervention by dissident republicans. Any attempt by Saoradh to oppose, protest or interfere with the veterans' event would be an affront to decency and democracy," he said.
Mr McCausland claimed that the British Army had served both communities in Northern Ireland well during the Troubles. "But for the army, there would have been many more people dead," he said.
"They protected the entire community and they saved countless lives. Saoradh needs to remember that the Provisional IRA murdered far more Roman Catholics during the Troubles than any other organisation."
Belfast Ulster Unionist councillor, Chris McGimpsey, who is president of the First Belfast Royal Irish Rangers' Old Comrades Association, said that dissident republicans were showing their true colours.
"They are trying to make it unsuitable or unsafe for army veterans to display themselves on the streets of Belfast. They use the same old trick every time," he said.
"It indicates a total lack of tolerance by these so-called republicans. They are prepared to concede nothing to anybody but themselves. I would expect thousands of citizens on the streets to welcome our heroes."
Mr McGimpsey claimed that dissident republicans were just out to cause trouble. "They are constantly looking for conflict and confrontation. That's all they offer the people of Ireland.
"They are stuck in the past. They have learnt nothing, moved nowhere and are going nowhere," he said.
Last month, hundreds of veterans marched to Downing Street in protest at former soldiers being prosecuted.
They handed over a letter for Prime Minister Theresa May, asking her to introduce a statute of limitations to curtail the prosecutions. UUP MP Danny Kinahan and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson were among those in attendance.
Addressing the crowd was 75-year-old British Army veteran, Dennis Hutchings from Cornwall, who has been charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham (27), a man with learning difficulties shot dead by the army in Benburb in 1974.