The Parades Commission has come under renewed attack from unionists after it cut the number of bands permitted to take part in a controversial band parade.
The commission has now ruled this Friday evening’s Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band parade in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, can involve just 25 bands — down from the traditional 44.
The parade through the overwhelmingly nationalist village has been one of the most controversial in recent years with a huge police presence required.
The Parades Commission said: “The parade and the issues related to it continue to present one of the most contentious and challenging parading situations facing the Parades Commission.
“Both the present commission and its predecessors have asked both sides involved in the issue of parading in Rasharkin to enter into direct dialogue aimed at facilitating a lasting resolution.”
The commission claims that it attempted to engage with the organisers on three occasions.
The determination continued: “The commission believes that this determination, in the absence of an agreed outcome, represents the best way in which the purpose of the parade can be facilitated.”
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said the decision to wield the axe on the number of bands was a “reward for bigotry and a charter for intimidation”.
He said: “It ought to be abundantly clear to everyone by now that the Parades Commission is not interested in listening to any logical or rational points put forward by people when it comes to dealing with the Ballymaconnelly Parade.
“Instead it seems determined to reward a small group of unrepresentative republicans in the village.”
He then rounded on Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, who lives in the village and has been a vocal opponent on the parade.
“It is the height of nonsense for Daithi Mckay to now call for calm or for as little disruption as possible when his party has increased tensions around this parade for many years. The best contribution that Daithi McKay could make to the situation in Rasharkin would be to come out against this latest public manifestation of that approach.”
Mr McKay welcomed the determination, saying: “The additional restrictions on the Ballymaconnelly band parade are to be welcomed.
“Ultimately though the determination should have gone further and the only way this contentious parade can be resolved is through dialogue between local residents and the Ballymaconnolly band.”
TUV MLA Jim Allister branded the ruling “a gratutitous act” amd “another deliberate attempt by the perverse commission to humiliate the Protestant community in Rasharkin”.
He added: “If it is an attempt to reduce the numbers attending the parade, then I call on the public to give their answer by attending in greater numbers .”
Meanwhile, police are appealing for information after a suspicious fire occurred in the Churchfields area of Rasharkin early yesterday. Shortly before 1.30am, firefighters were called to a report of a car ablaze.