Northern Ireland

RIR parade: Peter Robinson to meet Owen Paterson

RIR soldiers
Image caption Dr Liam Fox said the soldiers' commitment will be marked 'in another form'

NI First Minister Peter Robinson has arranged a meeting with NI Secretary of State Owen Paterson to discuss a decision not to hold a homecoming parade for soldiers from the RIR returning from Afghanistan.

The MoD turned down an offer from Belfast City Council to hold a march in honour of the soldiers.

It blamed "post-operational duties".

Mr Robinson will meet Mr Paterson next week.

Referring to the council's offer, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said it was a "kind invitation" but a parade was "not the best way to proceed".

"We will consult the city council and other parties in the coming days about how we can best mark their commitment in another form," he added.

The Ministry of Defence said a service of thanksgiving will be held to honour the Royal Irish Regiment at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on 22 May.

Mr Robinson said he was "deeply disappointed" at the decision to decline the invitation.

"This outrageous decision has been made by the MoD in London without any consultation either with the local administration or local representatives," he said.

"The decision is unacceptable and we will be seeking a review of the decision otherwise the impression will be given that dissident republicans can dictate where our soldiers are able to parade."

More than 1,500 members of the regiment returned from a tour of Afghanistan two weeks ago.

Three soldiers from the 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. The exact circumstances of his death have not yet been confirmed.

Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, 27, from Banbridge, was killed by an IED in March.

Earlier this month, 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.

There were protests at a previous parade in 2008.

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