Belfast Telegraph

No RIR parade in Belfast

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Soldiers returning from war in Afghanistan will not have a Belfast homecoming parade, it can be revealed.

The Ministry of Defence has declined a request to organise a march through the city centre citing “post-deployment training” commitments as the reason behind the rejection.

In a letter to Belfast City Council received yesterday, the military claimed personnel from the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards, who will be parading through Lisburn, Enniskillen and Ballymena next month, will be too busy to march through Belfast.

However unionists, who have branded the decision a “victory for dissidents”, believe the parade has been turned down because of security cost implications.

More than 1,500 Northern Ireland soldiers returned from tour in Helmand province just over a fortnight ago. Three RIR men, Ranger Aaron McCormick (22) from Coleraine, Ranger David Dalzell (20) from Bangor and Lance Corporal Stephen McKee (27) from Portadown, were killed during the six-month deployment.

Belfast councillors passed a motion by 26 votes to 20 calling for a homecoming parade to be staged in the city. Only Sinn Fein and the SDLP opposed the invite.

The military’s refusal has caused anger.

“I am extremely annoyed and angry more than anything else,” said Ian Crozier, DUP chairman of the city council’s strategic policy and resources committee.

“The RIR had a homecoming parade through a village in England. They are not too busy to march through the Secretary of State’s constituency, but they are too busy to walk through the capital of Northern Ireland.

“This has nothing to do with being busy. This is about security costs. And, it will be seen as a victory for dissidents who, because they ran about issuing threats, have halted this parade.”

Around 30,000 people turned out for a homecoming parade through Belfast in 2008. A massive air and land security operation had to be mounted to keep rival factions of hardline loyalists and republicans apart.

In a statement a spokesman for the MoD said: “Both the RIR and Irish Guards will now be embarking on a very busy period of post operational duties, and therefore have been unable to accept this very kind offer.

“The RIR will, however, be holding a service of thanksgiving at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast on Sunday, May 22.”

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A Belfast homecoming parade has been a contentious since 2008 when around 30,000 people turned out to welcome personnel back from Afghanistan. A security operation was mounted to separate gangs of republicans and loyalists. Republican splinter group eirigi vowed to “actively oppose” any military march.

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