Belfast Telegraph

Apprentice Boys have shown DUP how to say sorry over parade: SF

Apprentice Boys governor Graeme Stenhouse
Apprentice Boys governor Graeme Stenhouse
Michelle O’Neill
Stephen Farry
Robin Swann

By Suzanne Breen, political editor

Sinn Fein has said the Apprentice Boys of Derry have shown more leadership than the DUP for acknowledging the hurt caused by bandsmen wearing Soldier F and Parachute Regiment insignia at their annual parade in the city last weekend.

The party's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill was speaking as a number of loyalist bands last night indicated they would not parade with the Apprentice Boys in Londonderry in the future.

The loyal order had also said its parade should not be used as a means to "heighten tensions in a shared city".

Mrs O'Neill said: "The leadership of the Apprentice Boys has now at least acknowledged the hurt and offence caused.

"There is now an onus on them to ensure there is never any repeat of the disrespect and provocation we witnessed on Saturday last."

Mrs O'Neill continued: "In stark contrast, the DUP has totally failed to show any leadership.

"The DUP has not acknowledged the hurt caused by either the Apprentice Boys' march or the disgraceful decision by DUP representatives to pose for a photo underneath a Parachute Regiment banner in the city where that regiment murdered 14 people on Bloody Sunday.

"This was a deliberate insult to the Bloody Sunday families. The DUP leadership needs to tackle the disrespect of their elected representatives and to belatedly show some modicum of political leadership."

On Tuesday Apprentice Boys governor Graeme Stenhouse said the loyal order had "no prior knowledge of the band's uniform, or this incident, until the conclusion of the main parade on Bond Street".

He added that "we recognise this may have caused upset to many in the nationalist community".

But that has sparked a backlash by some bands.

Cloughfern Young Conquerors Flute Band stated on Facebook: "Today, from chairman down to the most junior members, we have made the decision to terminate all contracts with the ABOD and cease all communication with the association.

"We stand in solidarity with our friends in the Rathcoole Protestant Boys Flute Band and will set a hopeful trend that support for the organisation in the area stops."

Rathcoole Protestant Boys described the Apprentice Boys statement as "a complete joke".

"We as a band have decided that after their statement that we will NOT do another ABOD parade again," they said.

"We stand with Clyde Valley, We don't turn our back on our own."

Pride of Ballybeen also said it would not attend future Apprentice Boys demonstrations after members were left in "disbelief" at the loyal order's statement.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann called for talks to resolve the issue.

"It has worked before and it can work again, away from the heated public debate," he said.

"There is a conversation to be had around respecting each other and victims of the Troubles. Nobody should deliberately go out to antagonise innocent victims and their families. Unfortunately, Sinn Fein seem desperate to use this exercise to point score against political unionism.

"They demonstrate a shocking lack of self-awareness given the behaviour of some of their own elected representatives."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "The statement from the Apprentice Boys of Derry is helpful and in the spirit of accommodation.

"Hopefully it signals a corner has been turned on this issue.

"Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the leadership of the DUP and UUP also acknowledged the wearing of a Parachute Regiment emblem in the specific context of Derry-Londonderry is irresponsible and provocative, rather than just creating a smokescreen."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also welcomed the statement from the Apprentice Boys.

The Foyle MLA said: "The statement from the Apprentice Boys acknowledging the genuine hurt caused by a band parading with Parachute Regiment and Soldier F insignia is a positive step that will contribute to healing in the city.

"It is welcome and demonstrates the kind of leadership that Derry and the North needs right now."

However, TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Fundamentally the issue which all the loyal orders need to reflect upon is this - if a small Parachute Regiment symbol results in this aggressive reaction, what's next?

"Will it be RUC and UDR insignia?"

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