Belfast Telegraph

No decision as yet on RIR parade in Belfast: PM

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Prime Minister David Cameron has waded into the row over a Belfast homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

Addressing the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron said no final decision had been made on the controversial parade — despite the Ministry of Defence declining an invitation from Belfast City Council.

Responding to a question from North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, Mr Cameron said: “The bravery of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards in Afghanistan has been outstanding and, sadly, both regiments have suffered loss of life during their recent deployments.

“As I understand it, a number of homecoming events will be taking place across Northern Ireland.

“We are discussing with Belfast City Council and others how we can give recognition to their tremendous bravery.

“No decision has yet been made and I will make sure he (Nigel Dodds) is fully involved in those discussions.”

Mr Cameron added: “It is also worth noting that because they are actually stationed in north Shropshire, they have already had a very successful homecoming parade in Market Drayton, and I am sure that they will have many others besides.”

Mr Cameron’s comments come as a unionist delegation prepares to meet Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson to discuss the contentious issue later

today. Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed the MoD had declined an invitation from Belfast City Council, citing post-operational commitments as the reason for the refusal.

Unionist politicians have branded the MoD decision for Belfast a “victory for dissidents”.

Mr Dodds said: “I think the fact that the Prime Minister has thrown open the door is encouraging at this stage. We are absolutely determined that the homecoming must be marked in the proper way.”

About 30,000 people turned out for a homecoming parade through Belfast city centre in 2008.

However, a massive multi-million pound security operation was mounted to keep rival loyalist and republican factions apart.

Background

A massive security operation had to be launched to keep rival gangs of loyalists and republicans apart during a previous homecoming parade through Belfast in November 2008. An RAF flypast was cancelled and the event was dramatically scaled down after nationalists raised objections. In the end, around 30,000 people turned out to recognise the troops.

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