British army declines Belfast invite to RIR

The British army has decided not to accept an offer from Belfast City Council for the Royal Irish Regiment to march through Belfast in a "homecoming" parade.

Earlier this month Belfast City Council voted to approve a parade for the Royal Irish and the Irish Guards returning from Afghanistan, despite opposition from Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

But the British Ministry of Defence have turned down the Council's request citing "a very busy period of post operational duties."

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In November 2008 hundreds of republicans and victims of the British army protested in opposition to a similar parade, as loyalists hurled missiles and fireworks at them and shouted abuse.

This week Sinn Féin councillor Gerard O'Neill said the invite and subsequent rejection was a "political gimmick" by unionists that has backfired.

"This is a time when people across the city are looking to politicians for leadership and to show political maturity," he said. "To make this invitation shows how out of touch unionist politicians are with the people of Belfast. It is a political gimmick by unionist trying to up the ante and it has backfired but we know that in the run-up to the election unionist will try to up the ante.

"It is the right decision; nobody wants it," he said.

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said commonsense had prevailed.

"The RIR hadn't asked for a parade and I think they recognised the previous parade caused unnecessary tension in the city," he said.

"We don't need to be creating sectarian tensions in the city and it is clear that a parade would have raised tensions."

He said a church-based event, as has been held previously, would have been more appropriate.

The Irish Echo has seen a copy of the British army's letter to the Council which says that the RIR and Irish Guards are "embarking on a very busy period of post operational duties" which means they are "unable to accept the kind and gracious offer made by Belfast City Council."

The Council's motion, approved on April 4, was backed by the DUP, UUP and Alliance parties, but opposed by the SDLP and Sinn Féin. The final vote was 26 to 20.