A military veteran involved in organising Friday’s protest rally in Belfast city centre has accused dissident republicans of using threatening language to stir up tension.
Around 150 veterans and their supporters are expected to gather at the City Hall front gates – in protest at criminal proceedings being brought against soldiers involved in fatal shootings during the Troubles.
The Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV) rally has been timed to coincide with others taking place in London and Glasgow.
A counter demonstration by dissident group Saoradh has been given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission, sparking concern there will be an attempt to disrupt the JFNIV rally.
One message posted on the Saoradh Twitter page yesterday said: “Join Saoradh tomorrow in Belfast, as we oppose the butchers of British imperialism, as they attempt to cover up their war crimes in Ireland.”
Speaking on U105 radio, Saoradh spokesman Sean Cahill called the British Army “murderers” and said: “We are calling on all right-thinking people to come out and support the victims and their families.”
Threats of republican violence led to the cancellation of a protest by another veterans’ support group in Londonderry last month.
Alan Barry of JFNIV said he had “serious concerns” about the “aggressive and antagonistic” language being used by Saoradh and its supporters in the run up to their march from Castle Street to confront the veterans at Donegall Square North.
A large police presence is expected to be in place at the junction of Donegall Place to keep the veterans and republicans apart.
Dublin-born Mr Barry completed several tours of duty in Northern Ireland. He said the contrast between an elderly Household Cavalry soldier facing charges over the death of a teenager in Co Tyrone in 1974, and the ‘comfort letter’ given to a convicted IRA member ensuring he will not stand trial for a bomb attack that killed four members of the Household Cavalry in 1982, was stark.
“We have appeasement at all costs. We have Dennis Hutchings who is currently being hounded and then we have [Hyde Park bombing suspect] John Downey, who is currently living a very nice life in southern Ireland with his ‘letter of comfort’ probably framed on the wall in the living room. You could make this up. If it wasn’t so serious you could almost turn it into a black comedy,” he said.
Mr Downey has denied any involvement in the bombing.
Mr Barry added: “British soldiers running amok through the streets of Ireland, murdering people at will? I have never heard such rubbish, but people actually believe this propaganda.”
The JFNIV event will take place between 11am and mid-day, while the Saoradh protest march will make its way from Castle Street to the city centre around the same time.
DUP MLA William Humphrey said he hoped business in the city can “continue without disruption from dissident republicans”.