It has been announced that the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment is to stage a full military parade in Ballymena, County Antrim, fuelling tensions over the summer marching season.
There have also been proposals by unionists for provocative British military parades in other several towns and cities across the North of Ireland.
The murderous regiment, which was involved in some of the most notorious killings of the conflict in Ireland, was formed from the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1992.
The regiment used to have their base in heavily unionist Ballymena, where they were granted the freedom of the borough several years ago. Local councillors approved the march this week.
Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff said he strongly opposed plans for the so-called ‘homecoming parade’.
Mr McElduff described the British Army as “an army of occupation”.
“Any parade would be an affront to Irish Nationalists and Republicans the length and breadth of Ireland. Such a parade would attempt to legitimise the illegal decision by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to invade Afghanistan.
“Anyone who argues for a ‘welcome home’ reception for the British army in Ireland has clearly lost the run of themselves and should catch themselves on. To those unionist politicians who are fronting this campaign I would suggest that we have more pressing political priorities to deal with at the Assembly.
“As I leaf through the pages of books outlining the British army involvement in Ireland, there are examples jumping out at me of people killed in Ireland by the British army, including Aidan McAnespie, members of the IRA and civilians. Every page includes a reason for me to oppose a British army welcome home parade in Ireland.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has expressed concern over a loyalist band parade in the County Antrim village next weekend.
The event is set to bring 40 loyalist bands into the overwhelmingly nationalist village, many with links to unionist paramilitaries.
It will come at the end of a summer of trouble in Rasharkin, which has seen a firebomb attack on a Catholic-owned pub and a number of highly provocative parades.
One of the bands invited to Rasharkin is the Freeman Memorial Band from Coleraine, named after a UVF member who blew himself up in Coleraine in the 1970s.
A questionnaire carried out in Rasharkin has shown that over 95% of residents are totally opposed to the parade taking place.
Rasharkin Sinn Féin Councillor Daithi McKay has voiced his extreme concern after learning of the plan.
“The decision by Ballymaconnelly Band to try and flood this village with loyalists on 18th August is simply pure and utter madness. Residents in this village have made strenuous efforts over the past year to try and open up dialogue with the organisers of this parade to try and come to an amicable resolution to this issue but unfortunately these have not been responded to.
“Last year the presence of loyalist paramilitary bands was well documented in the press and the parade organisers have again applied to bring these bands through the village this year. The silence of Unionist politicians in regard to the presence of loyalist paramilitaries at this parade cannot go on.
Mr McKay pointed out that the ‘Freeman Memorial Band’ was also invited to a DUP parade in nearby Rathfriland last September.
“The DUP’s stance on the inclusion of them in the Rasharkin parade will really be a litmus test of their approach toward loyalist paramilitaries in this area,” he said.
“We will be telling the Parades Commission that this parade remains unacceptable to residents in this village. This is a 90% nationalist village and its residents have rights that must be upheld.
“In the last two years there has been an assault on a Catholic woman, tricolours burnt in the street and hundreds of drunken loyalists intimidating and harassing residents.
“The people in this village will continue to have no confidence in the Parades Commission whilst it continues to facilitate loyalist paramilitaries marching through Rasharkin.”
* Saturday’s major Relief of Derry parade by the Apprentice Boys organisation again passed off peacefully this year following agreement with nationalist residents in the city.
Apprentice Boys Governor Jim Brownlee said it was “a successful and peaceful parade which was completely tension-free.
“We were over the moon with the success this year and that everyone involved behaved themselves.”