Troops deserve respect at the very least
It is sad that controversy continues in Northern Ireland over the homecoming parades to honour troops who have returned from Afghanistan.
Some three years ago, riot police had to keep rival factions apart when the troops marched through the centre of Belfast.
This year the Defence Ministry declined an offer from the Belfast City Council for a parade through the city centre, and even the council's very decision to approve a parade was opposed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
However, a compromise was reached on the venue, and the parade was held yesterday in the controlled atmosphere of Balmoral, in the presence of over 3,000 guests.
Even so, there was disruption, with a bomb alert in the area. Fortunately it proved to be a hoax, but those responsible had already made their point. It is deeply depressing to be reminded that such petty divisions continue to exist in Northern Ireland over issues such as Afghanistan which have much bigger implications.
Whether people agree or not with the presence of troops in Afghanistan, there can be no quarrel about the bravery of those men and woman who put their lives on the line, in the course of doing their duty.
Such bravery is evident almost daily in the vivid despatches from the front line, and this courage is exemplified by the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment who were rightly honoured in the homecoming reception yesterday.
There was also great sadness in that some members of these regiments were unable to gain the recognition they deserved, either through death, or due to serious injuries which prevented them from taking part in such a homecoming.
It is regrettable that so many people from our community still decline to recognise the sacrifice and the service of so many professional troops who are bravely doing their duty in a most dangerous situation. A grown-up society should accept all traditions and institutions, particularly in an atmosphere of greater understanding.
It is clear, however, that in Northern Ireland despite the advances, there is still much growing-up to do.