Two related but separate matters need to be disentangled when considering the PSNI response to the Larne flute band that wore Soldier F insignia.
The first is the appropriateness or tact of wearing such a symbol on the sleeves of those marchers, and the second is whether or not it should be illegal to do so, or worthy of a major police response.
On the question of tact, it was a mistake. One of the triumphs of community relations in recent years is the non contentious nature of loyal order parades in Londonderry, a mostly nationalist city with a hardline republican element.
Given the associations of the Parachute Regiment there post Bloody Sunday, it was of course going to exacerbate ill feeling to wear such a symbol in the march. By specifying a soldier who, it seems from the legal processes to date, to have most to answer the wisdom of wearing such a is all the more .
However, it is extraordinary that PSNI launched a major operation to pursue this band when there are more pressing issues including murderers who are active in Londonderry.
There is a need for clarity on PSNI policy. Is it, as seems a possible interpretation of one senior officer’s remarks yesterday, that a symbol is illegal due to where it is displayed? In other words, that a Soldier F symbol would be overlooked in, say, an overwhelmingly unionist town?
If so, is this why Sinn Fein politicians singing the praises of IRA murderers are not deemed worthy of a major PSNI follow-up operation, because they have typically taken place in republican areas? Because on a scale of offensiveness, such homage to the IRA is just as upsetting as the soldier symbols.
On the wider point of celebrating our soldiers, including the Parachute Regiment, for coming to Northern Ireland to keep the peace, this is highly apt on the 50th anniversary of Operation Banner, and all the more so when numerous soldiers face murder charges and no IRA leaders face the same.
So was unwise for this band to wear this symbol on that march but should not have led to a major PSNI pursuit.