Belfast Telegraph

Rasharkin: The desperate search for a solution before the marching begins again

By Claire McNeilly

Political leaders have predicted that sectarian tensions in Rasharkin can be resolved ahead of next year’s marching season.

DUP and Sinn Fein have called for dialogue from both sides after two sectarian attacks in the village at the weekend.

The home of the Catholic mother of Northern Ireland footballer Chris Baird was petrol bombed on Sunday — the second attack on the home in just three weeks. Mrs Baird’s house was first targeted shortly after the contentious Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band parade in the town in August.

Then, following the most recent attack on the Bairds, a bullet was put through a Protestant woman’s letterbox and she was told to get out of the village.

A brick was also thrown at her house.

Tensions have been high in the village following the parade held by the Ballymaconnelly Flute Band, which has attracted significant nationalist protests.

This year, a bomb scare at the Orange hall on Main Street saw the parade delayed and re-routed, before it passed off peacefully.

It marked a distinct departure from the violence that erupted in 2009, however, when petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown.

Furthermore, there is hope of a peaceful resolution to this volatile situation before the marching season begins next year.

Daithi McKay, Sinn Fein MLA, said a resolution to the dispute could be found if both sides of the community work together.

“The parades issue is a massive contributory issue to this sectarian strife,” he said.

“In recent years there has been an increase in these attacks at the same time as the marching season.

“But I believe there is a context where non-contentious parades can take place in the village.”

As the Parades Bill makes its way through the Assembly, Mr McKay said he expects it to be completed and adopted before Christmas.

“The Ballymaconnelly parade remains the main issue as it creates anger and raises tension throughout the community,” he said.

“Hopefully we can find a solution for a peaceful parade and one which is not offensive in its nature to the local community.

“I think we have more than enough time to resolve the issues between this year and next.”

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr, said the onus was on efforts to curb sectarian violence before someone gets seriously injured or killed.

“My concern is that a very genuine flute band is being wrongly blamed for all the trouble,” he said.

“This is about a community coming to tolerate each other |and there needs to be some kind of leadership to allow that to happen.

“I would say I am very hopeful that we will find a solution that is unique to Rasharkin.”

Whether or not the answer will provide a blueprint that can be rolled out across Northern Ireland remains to be seen.

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