Northern Ireland news

Apprentice Boys acknowledge nationalist hurt caused by Soldier F insignia band

UUP Leader Robin Swann led a delegation to meet senior PSNI officers to discuss police handling of last Saturday's Apprentice Boys' parade in Derry. PICTUR: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.
Seamus McKinney

THE leadership of the Apprentice Boys has acknowledged the hurt the Clyde Valley flute band caused to Derry’s nationalist community. 

On Tuesday night governor Graeme Stenhouse delivered a statement which marked a major turn in the situation after a dramatic rise in tensions in the city since the weekend. 

The loyal order said senior officers had no prior knowledge of the Parachute Regiment insignia worn by the Larne band during the Relief of Derry parade. The emblem featuring the letter F referred to Soldier F who is due to appear before Derry Magistrates Court next month charged with the murders of William McKinney and Jim Wray on Bloody Sunday. 

The incident was described as “hugely offensive” by relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead and injured and provoked outrage among nationalists. Unionist leaders later criticised the PSNI handling of the incident after police flanked the band as it marched through Derry and detained the band’s bus for about two hours. 

In a statement delivered from the Apprentice Boys’ headquarters, Mr Stenhouse said: “At the Relief of Londonderry commemorations on Saturday 10th August an incident took place with the Clyde Valley flute band with regards to an emblem on the band’s shirt sleeve. The officers of general committee had no prior knowledge of the band’s uniform or this incident until the conclusion of the main parade at Bond’s Street. 

“We recognise that this may have caused upset to many in the nationalist community. Our focus at this parade is to commemorate the siege and the relief of this city in 1689 and in no way should it be used as a means to heighten tensions in a shared city.” 

Mr Stenhouse was accompanied by the loyal order’s senior officers as well as DUP MLA Gary Middleton and former DUP assembly speaker Lord William Hay. 

Earlier on Tuesday nationalist leaders claimed unionist criticism of policing at the parade was an attempt to deflect attention from the band’s actions.

Both the DUP and UUP met police. The PSNI defended its approach. Nationalist leaders have also disputed claims by the Apprentice Boys that no deal was reached with the Bogside Residents’ Group (BRG) over the display of pro-Soldier F emblems. Sinn Féin accused the organisation of acting in bad faith and has called for a meeting with the loyal order’s leadership.

Both police and the BRG said on Monday that assurances were given that no visiting bands would be allowed to stage shows of support for Soldier F. However, Mr Stenhouse and DUP MP Gregory Campbell claimed on Tuesday that no assurances were given. Mr Campbell said there were discussions about “blatant issues like T-shirts” or banners but no-one foresaw a band wearing a “small, tiny motif”. Mr Stenhouse said the Apprentice Boys were not asked to give any assurances in advance of Saturday’s parade.

Derry Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said agreement was reached over many years to ensure parades in Derry were respectful and non-contentious.

“Assurances were given that there would be no parachute regiment or Soldier F imagery involved but this agreement was broken. Subsequent Apprentice Boys’ denials of such an agreement do not stand up to scrutiny and are in direct contravention of the accounts from the PSNI and the Bogside Residents’ Group,” she said.

Ms McCallion called for a meeting with the Apprentice Boys to challenge what she claimed was an “act of bad faith”.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said that instead of confronting the “mocking” of Bloody Sunday victims, unionist leaders had sought to deflect attention and criticise police.

Following Tuesday’s meeting with senior police, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the operation had generated significant and “justifiable” concern in the unionist community.

“We do not believe motifs worn by band members were illegal and they did not tangibly threaten a breach of the peace. This is in stark contrast to events orchestrated by dissident republicans, including an unnotified protest, in the vicinity of the parade,” Mrs Foster said.

She said the DUP challenged the PSNI over its handling of republican events, in particular a recent Hunger Strike commemoration in Strabane, Co Tyrone.

“Policing must be fair and even-handed and as elected representatives we will not shy away from holding the police to account or reflecting frustration and anger present in local communities,” Mrs Foster said.

UUP leader Robin Swann said police told the party they would look at issues raised during the meeting. He said it was now time to repair any damage done to relationships in Derry. He said it was important that the Derry march model was protected.

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