Belfast Telegraph

Band broke agreement by wearing Parachute Regiment emblems in Londonderry, says senior policeman

Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A display of Parachute Regiment emblems during a parade on Saturday was in breach of an agreement between the Apprentice Boys, police and Bogside Residents' Group, it has been claimed.

Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said senior members of the Apprentice Boys understood the need for sensitivity about shows of support for soldier F and had agreed to do what they could to prevent such displays.

The Larne-based Clyde Valley Flute Band and arrived in Londonderry wearing the Parachute Regiment emblem above the letter F on their uniforms.

Soldier F is due in court next month charged with two counts of murder and four of attempted murder.

Supt McCalmont said full dialogue about the possible display of support for Soldier F on Saturday and the sensitivities around that had been ongoing since May.

It is understood the agreement was the Apprentice Boys would try to prevent any Parachute Regiment flag or emblem, or show of support for Soldier F, being displayed during the parade.

If this did occur, police would intervene, rather than the parade marshals or members of the Apprentice Boys organisation.

Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said: "There was a specific agreement in place that there would be no 'Soldier F' or Parachute Regiment symbols, given the clear hurt and offence this would cause to the Bloody Sunday families in particular."

Supt McCalmont said: "We have been talking about this as an issue since the start of the parading season.

"There has been full dialogue (between Apprentice Boys, Bogside residents and PSNI) and we have taken a no-surprises approach.

"We have always communicated, given the geographical sensitivities, that anything displaying nature of parachute regiment flags, emblems etc would be likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

"We met with senior representatives of the Apprentice Boys and that was communicated and there was a clear understanding of that."

The band or Apprentice Boys in Derry could not be reached for comment last night.

Further dialogue is expected within the coming days to restore the parading plan forged almost two decades ago that had led to trouble-free parading in the city for the past decade.

Police chiefs and political leaders have acknowledged this received a setback.

However, both SDLP leader and Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood and East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said it was now time to take a step back from the existing tensions.

Mr Eastwood said: "People are rightly angry and I share that anger, but what comes next is that we show that Derry is a city that can accommodate difference, as uncomfortable as that may be.

"I think everybody, particularly the unionist leaders who are commentating, need to be mindful of the progress made over 22 years and need to remember how contentious and difficult this march had been.

"The work that has been done by local communities, politicians from all parties, the Apprentice Boys, local business people and the police can't be lost."

Mr Campbell shared Mr Eastwood's desire to restore the parading agreement in the city.

He said: "I am not of the mindset that this will undo the good work that has been done, that's not what is going to happen.

"It would be inconceivable that people would want to push back, so the first thing that has to be done is for people to take a step back from where it has been allowed to go this weekend."

Mr Campbell said the police had questions to ask over emblems, including imagery of guns which had been on display at the hunger strike commemoration in Strabane the previous weekend.

Mr Campbell said it had led to frustration among unionists.

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