Organisers of a major parade of thousands to mark the 50th anniversary of troops arriving in Northern Ireland have banned any emblems in support of ‘Soldier F’.
The Operation Banner commemoration in Lisburn this weekend comes one week to the day after bandsmen outraged nationalists in Londonderry by wearing uniforms with symbols relating to the Parachute Regiment – and the ex-para now facing murder charges over events on Bloody Sunday.
Saturday’s parade and drumhead service at Wallace Park has been organised by the NI Veterans Association (NIVA) and will include groups representing former regular army and UDR soldiers, RUC, NI Prison Service personnel, An Garda Siochana and Irish Defence Forces, as well as the other emergency services.
Around 10,000 marchers and spectators are expected to converge on Lisburn for the event.
Ian Simpson of NIVA said the day was a “day of commemoration” and not one to stage a protest.
“As much as we understand and emphasise with people’s feelings, this Saturday is not the day for it,” he said.
“There will be other days to protest in support of Soldier F.”
Mr Simpson added: “What we don’t want in the parade is people with protest banners because that actually takes away from what we are trying to do.
“Saturday is about remembrance and commemoration of those who lost their lives, and the 50 years since Op Banner began.”
In a statement posted on Facebook, NIVA said: “NIVA are in complete sympathy with all the other veterans organisations outraged with the witch-hunt against our soldiers and police that served in Op Banner, and we believe a lot more can be done on that front, however, we also believe that this parade in not the day to highlight that, so we will not be carrying any flags or banners supporting Soldier F, or will any of the bands in the parade be allowed to do so either.”
The statement goes on to say: “This is purely a day of commemoration and remembrance.”
The announcement has sparked a fierce debate on social media with veterans’ supporters sharply divided on the banner ban.
While a number have now stated they will boycott the parade, many others have expressed support for the statement, saying the parade is “not the time or place” for a protest.