'Dissident fears' halt band parade

A PARADE by a Royal Marine band due to take place at the Tall Ships festival yesterday was cancelled for fear of "antagonising" dissident republicans.

Republican group Eirigi issued a statement to the media yesterday threatening to "challenge" the presence of the Royal Marine at the festival.

It said: "Eirigi activists will be on the ground at the Tall Ships event to make sure that the presence of the Royal Marines does not go unchallenged."

The parade had been expected to start at 2pm at Albert Quay before continuing on to the city centre.

There was a police presence with around six Land Rovers and officers wearing flak jackets carried out security checks under cars and bollards in the area.

A steward at the festival said they had not been told exactly where the parade was due to happen.

He said he had been told the parade was cancelled because of the rain.

The police press office told the News Letter it understood the parade had been cancelled due to the wet weather, however an MoD spokesman said the decision had been taken so as to "not antagonise those enjoying a peaceful protest".

DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the decision was "political correctness gone mad".

"I think it is disgraceful that the MoD has backed down from the threat from this type of republicans who support the murder of soldiers and civilians outside Army bases," he said.

"There is huge support for the troops here as evidenced by the huge reception they received at the homecoming parade in Belfast

"It is time the MoD caught themselves on and not allow a bunch of fascists from ruining a successful event."

Eirigi general secretary Breandan Mac Cionnaith said SDLP and Sinn Fein Belfast city councillors "were asleep at the wheel when they allowed the inclusion of the Royal Marines in the Tall Ships event to go ahead unopposed".

"It is disgraceful that a great occasion, such as the Tall Ships Challenge, has been politicised with the inclusion of a British military unit in the accompanying festivities," he said.

"It seems that no event is safe from those who want to 'normalise' the British occupation of the Six Counties.

"Eirg believes that this potentially great event has been ruined by the presence of Britain war machine."

Meanwhile, Belfast Lord Mayor Naomi Long said the number of visitors to the festival so far have "exceeded our wildest expectations".

It is estimated 140,000 people visited the Tall Ships festival on Thursday, the first day of the event with half a million expected by Sunday.

"Despite the weather on Friday, we have had a fantastic turnout, with crowds lining the docks to view the majestic tall ships and enjoying the variety of entertainment and activities taking place.

"We would envisage that the total numbers for the first two days will exceed 200,000 with the full festival on target to attract half a million visitors."

"We anticipate that there will be several hundred thousand more people expected to attend over the weekend especially at the Parade of Sail on Sunday afternoon.

"There have been lessons learned from the traffic management issues yesterday and we ask the general public to be patient as we, and our partners in Translink and PSNI, are working hard to minimise disruption."