An Orange lodge made up of former Ulster Defence Regiment members has appealed for flag protesters not to disrespect a weekend commemoration parade in Belfast.
The plea comes as the Defenders of the Realm prepare to commemorate 25 years since the IRA murdered two UDR soldiers in the city on Saturday.
Privates James Cummings and Freddie Starrett, both 22, were killed in 1988 when a bomb was detonated close to where the Castle Court shopping centre now stands.
Earlier this week, organisers of the weekly loyalist flag protest at the city hall announced they have now switched their main demonstration to PSNI headquarters in east Belfast. However, a number of loyalists are expected to gather in the city centre also.
Speaking to the News Letter, a UDR lodge official said their only concern was that the dignity of their own event was not at risk from “disrespectful” behaviour.
“We would ask anybody coming along to show their support for the [Starrett and Cummings] families, to be dignified, and to show respect for the memory of these two brave boys,” he said.
“We had a meeting last Saturday with members of the community and community leaders. As far as we are aware, the [flag] protest is going to be held back until our parade comes out the town again. Protestors are going to be encouraged not to hang on to the parade or do anything that would hurt the families.”
The lodge spokesman added: “We are not going to tell the protestors what to do in any shape or form but we are asking that they give our parade the dignity that it deserves.”
Up to 1,000 people, including five bands, are expected to take part in the anniversary commemoration which will return to east Belfast from Royal Avenue at 11.45am. In a statement released yesterday, Ulster People’s Forum (UPF) chairman Jamie Bryson said the UPF was encouraging its supporters to relocate the weekly protest to police HQ as “mark of respect” to the two UDR men. However, he went on to say: “The UPF recognise and supports the right of individuals to make their own choice regarding this issue.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on the flag protesters to stay away from the city centre on Saturday.
He said: “Given the cost of the flags protests, it would be regrettable if those involved did not take the opportunity to step back to allow the media to highlight how republicans once stopped at nothing to pursue their economic war against Northern Ireland, irrespective of the cost in terms of human lives or impact on the economy.”
Full story in Friday’s News Letter