On 4 April Belfast City Council passed a resolution inviting the Army to hold a homecoming parade in Belfast. The chief executive then wrote to the Army on 6 April extending this invitation.
The Army has now written back thanking the Council for its kind invitation but indicating that due to a very busy period of post-operational duties they would have to decline.
In his letter of 21 April to the Council, Lieutenant General BWB White-Spunner CBE, Commander Field army, wrote:
Thank you for your letter of 6 April advising me of Belfast City Council's Notice of motion to extend a warm invitation to the military authorities to hold a Homecoming Parade and reception in Belfast for members of the Royal Irish Regimewnt and Irish Guards on their safe return from their deployment in Afghanistan.The Army has been overwhelmed by the widespread support that we have received and are greatly heartened by your request. Returning from overseas operations is difficult and we place a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that our returning units are afforded an opportunity to visit as many communities as possible before embarking on post operational tour leave to allow them to spend uninterrupted time at home with their loved ones. As you may appreciate, planning has been underway for some months to hold a number of events to remember, to give thanks, and to mark the return of the soldiers and officers of the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards from their current operational deployment.Both the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards will now be embarking on a very busy period of post operational duties. That they are geographically dislocated with differing programmes of events has meant that these programmes would not be able to be disrupted, without infringing on the soldiers and officers taking their full complement of rest and recuperation. It is therefore with regret that I must advise that we will be unable to accept the kind and gracious offer made by Belfast City Council but, on behalf of the officers and men of the 1 Royal Irish Battle Group and the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, may I offer our sincere thanks for your continued support.
This decision by the Army is deeply disappointing as many people, including families and friends, were looking forward to a homecoming parade in the capital city of Northern Ireland.
All matters pertaining to the Army are reserved matters, which are dealt with at Westminster, and I know that the DUP MPs at Westminster will take this up as a matter of urgency. We want to see this decision reversed and it is important that our efforts are directed towards those who made the initial decision.