ULSTER Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has appealed for nationalist politicians to re-think their opposition to a homecoming parade for local troops following the death last Thursday of a Royal Irish soldier in Afghanistan.
Rgr Justin Cupples, a married 29-year-old from Cavan, died within minutes of sustaining horrific injuries after triggering a Taliban booby-trap bomb near the town of Sangin in Helmand province.
Rgr Cupples is the first Royal Irish soldier to be killed in the regiment's current tour of Afghanistan and Sir Reg, who was the first politician to back the News Letter's Welcome Home The Heroes campaign, said the tragedy highlighted the dangers facing local troops on a daily basis.
"The untimely death of a Royal Irish soldier in Afghanistan brings into sharp focus the reasons why the public and local councils should acknowledge the effort and risk that the troops are taking," he said.
"Surely it is not asking too much to give some basic civic hospitality to the regiment to show our appreciation of their efforts and show solidarity with the families who now dread the knock on the door or the phone call from the Army?"
Last week at Belfast City Council both Sinn Fein and the SDLP voted against any recognition of the soldiers' return from Afghanistan later this month.
The motion to welcome troops home was passed after the Alliance Party joined unionists in supporting it but Tom Hartley, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, has said that he will boycott the November 2 ceremony.
Sir Reg urged the two parties to reconsider their trenchant opposition to recognising the troops.
"I hope that some political parties will rethink their opposition to providing hospitality or parades," he said.
"Support for the troops does not mean support for the war. It would be a fitting tribute to and acknowledgement of the bravery of these young men and women if we could all unite to honour their efforts and sacrifice."