Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams blamed Secretary of State Shaun Woodward today for the controversy surrounding a military parade planned for Belfast.
Unionists have called for the public to support Sunday’s homecoming parade organised by the Ministry of Defence for troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Mr Adams defended plans for a Sinn Féin protest and said that while relatives had a right to welcome their loved ones home, the North's Secretary of State should have warned against a military march.
His comments came as Presbyterian Moderator Dr Donald Patton told Mr Adams he believed the protest would be unhelpful.
But Mr Adams said: “I hold the British Secretary of State responsible for the controversy that has arisen around the British Army’s military parade in Belfast on Sunday.
“While the British Ministry of Defence may be oblivious to the sensitivities involved, surely Shaun Woodward should have realised that Sunday’s event is ill-advised.
“A civic reception and a religious service would have provided families and supporters of the British army with the opportunity to welcome back their loved ones.
“And while many Belfast citizens may not support such events there would have been little protestation.”
There have been concerns expressed that while Sinn Fein says it plans to hold a peaceful protest, dissident republicans opposed to the peace process will hold their own demonstration.
The Sinn Féin leader added: “I very publicly want to acknowledge that the families of the soldiers involved are pleased to see their loved ones return from a dangerous situation. This is very understandable and acceptable.
“But the decision by the British Ministry of Defence to organise a military parade through Belfast city centre is totally unacceptable, not least because of the role of British forces in Ireland and in the city of Belfast.
“Republican and nationalist Belfast has suffered dreadfully under British military rule in the recent conflict.”
He said working class unionists had also felt the brunt of British military actions and said loyalist gunmen had in the past opened fire on British troops.
“So there are lots of contradictions in the unionist and loyalist position,” said Mr Adams.
“There are also people, including many who are not Sinn Féin supporters, who feel that a march to celebrate the actions of the British army and the British government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wrong.”
He said Sunday should pass off with dignity and restraint and said Sinn Féin had gone to great lengths to ensure its protest would be well-marshalled and peaceful.
He added: “The remarks by some unionist representatives have been over the top. They too have a responsibility to use their best influence to ensure that Sunday’s events pass peacefully.”
Meanwhile, Dr Patton said that in a letter sent to Mr Adams he had raised his disappointment at the plans to protest at the parade.
Sinn Féin said it had not received the letter, but Dr Patton said he had highlighted that both Catholic and Protestant soldiers had served side-by-side.
“Such an example of cooperation is to be welcomed in this divided land of ours,” he said.
“Regardless of the merits or demerits of the war in those countries these soldiers obeyed their orders and served at great risk to their lives.
“It is not in a spirit of triumphalism that we welcome these soldiers home but in a spirit of thanksgiving, sharing in the relief of their families that their loved ones are safe.”
The Moderator said: “It seems that tolerance, understanding and cooperation continue to be the casualties of our convoluted politics,” he said.
“Whatever happens perceptions will remain and can only impede progress towards creating better relations across our communities.”