Push for Army parade in Belfast gathers pace
Councillors to discuss official homecoming for returning troops
Demands for a homecoming parade in Belfast to recognise soldiers returning from Afghanistan are intensifying.
The City Council is expected to hold a meeting next week to propose inviting the Ministry of Defence to stage an event for the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards who return from Helmand province in the coming weeks.
The motion will be proposed by Ian Crozier, chairman of Belfast City Council’s policy and resources committee. “The people of Northern Ireland want to see a homecoming parade in their capital city, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“Defence Secretary Liam Fox has made clear his support for a parade in Belfast, but in recent days some ambiguity has emerged about what needs to happen so that a parade is actually organised.
“We are putting this motion forward to remove any doubt that our city wants a parade and we hope that the MoD will honour Dr Fox’s commitment.” Preparations for armed forces parades in Bangor, Enniskillen and Ballymena are already under way, with the main event being held in Lisburn at the end of May.
Earlier this month DUP MP Ian Paisley jnr claimed to have a letter from Dr Liam Fox backing calls for a homecoming parade in Belfast. However, that letter has yet to be made public.
In 2008 around 30,000 people turned out to welcome hundreds of British servicemen and women onto the streets of the city. But a massive security operation was mounted to keep hardline loyalists and dissident republicans apart.
The scale of the event was dramatically reduced after objections were raised by nationalists. Privately, security sources have said a parade will not take place in Belfast because of security cost implications. The MoD declined to be drawn on the debate.
“The Royal Irish Regiment is currently completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan and is rightly focused on a safe return,” a military spokesman said.
RIR and Irish Guards soldiers will return to the UK in the next couple of weeks. Ranger Aaron McCormick (22), Ranger David Dalzell (20) and Lance Corporal Stephen McKee (27) were all killed during their tours.