A confidential email sent by the DUP to me and several thousand others appeals to the majority on Belfast City Council to host a homecoming parade for the Royal Irish regiment after a service in St Anne’s Cathedral.
“Councillor Robin Newton the DUP group leader, said that on Friday morning the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee will discuss the provision of hospitality for members of the armed forces following a Homecoming Parade to St Annes Cathedral. “I hope that all committee members will be able to support the civic reception and that those who feel they are unable to vote for will at least not vote against. The worst thing for the city will be if this issue becomes a political football with the resulting bad feeling that will be generated.”
Will Sinn Fein jump with McElduff? Or will Tom Hartley show magnanimity? Can the DUP resist treating the homecoming from Afghanistan as a sectarian badge of honour and keep the issue dignified? Mr Newton in this statement is setting a good example.
The ball now seems to be rolling throughout the province, with councils dividing along predictable llines. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have put the MOD and the Army top brass off the whole idea. But are the returning soldiers expected to wear their boots out hiking round every council district prepared to give them a welcome? Or would one parade in Belfast and maybe another in Ballymena
( still, I think, the regiment’s symbolic HQ) be regarded as sufficient?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London