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City will host event for soldiers

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Troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment at Forward Operating Base Shawqat in Afghanistan

Troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment at Forward Operating Base Shawqat in Afghanistan

Troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment at Forward Operating Base Shawqat in Afghanistan

Belfast will still host an event for British army soldiers returned from Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.

Around 2,000 people attended a demonstration at Belfast city hall on Sunday protesting against the ministry's decision not to have a homecoming parade there by members of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR).

In 2008 there were protests and a heavy security presence was needed to prevent clashes between loyalists and republicans over an army parade through the city.

An MoD spokesman said: "The MoD are consulting with Belfast City Council and there will be an event both for the RIR and the Irish Guards." Parades have already been held this weekend in Lisburn and Ballymena, Co Antrim.

A service of thanksgiving was organised in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on Sunday. Among those attending were Lieutenant General Philip Trousdell, former General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland. An address was delivered by former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Lord Robin Eames.

The MOD said it has turned down an offer from Belfast City Council to hold a march through the city centre in honour of the soldiers. It blamed "post-operational duties". Defence Secretary Liam Fox said it was a "kind invitation" but a parade was "not the best way to proceed".

More than 1,500 members of the RIR returned from a tour of Afghanistan in April.

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Three soldiers from the First Battalion were killed during the operation, which began in September. Ranger Aaron McCormick, 22, from Macosquin in County Londonderry, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in November last year. Ranger David Dalzell, 20, from Bangor was shot in February. Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, 27, from Banbridge, was killed by an IED in March.

In April Belfast City Council voted to approve a parade for the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards.

The motion was backed by the DUP, UUP and Alliance parties, but opposed by the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The final vote was 26 to 20.


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