Belfast Telegraph

Unionists at Rasharkin parade call for Parades Commission to be replaced

By Paul Connolly

Unionists made fresh calls for the Parades Commission to be replaced after a loyalist band parade passed through the Co Antrim village of Rasharkin with restrictions placed on the music to be played.

There was tension and heavy security but no trouble as more than 20 bands paraded through the small village last night. Some politicians said progress has been made on the issue and that hopes are increasing a solution to the annual controversy might be in sight.

The Parades Commission ruled that bands in the parade, organised by Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors, could only play a single drumbeat when passing protesters in the centre of the village, a ruling that angered unionist politicians.

The Commission also said the parade organisers had not had any "direct engagement with the local community, despite concerted, ongoing efforts by the commission to encourage direct dialogue since 2011.”

The Commission also cited severe disruption to “this predominantly nationalist village, including freedom of movement restrictions of up to seven hours within the village”.

The bands in last night's parade complied with the music restriction, playing only a single drum beat as they passed protesters amid heavy security.

However Sinn Féin's Daithí McKay said it breached the determination by flying paramilitary flags.

The North Antrim MLA said: "This parade through the mainly nationalist village of Rasharkin breached Parades Commission rulings on numerous occasions.

"Both UDA and UVF flags were flown during the parade and one of the bands taking part was named after UVF member Geoffrey Freeman."

Meanwhile, unionist leaders spoke of their anger at the restrictions. DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said: "A single beat going through this part of the village just ups the ante in my view. A few tunes going through here would not hurt at all.

"So the Parades Commission - really? Bye bye, it's time to go. You're not doing your job well."

Jim Alister of the TUV said: "The Parades Commission has done their best to make this as difficult a parade as possible, to the point of making trouble more likely, with the imposition of a malevolent and utterly ridiculous condition."

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann MLA said: "The behaviour of the bands on parade on Friday night whilst passing the protesters is to be commended.

“The Parades Commission and the relevant authorities must now address on whose behalf these restrictions are being applied. Applications were lodged for two separate protests each of 300 people, which were restricted by the Commission to 50. On the night, neither group were able to muster 50 people to 'be offended.'  One group managed 48 and the other only 22, with both figures confirmed to me by the PSNI. Surely the reduction in the number of people protesting demonstrates that maybe the majority of people in Rasharkin are more tolerant of different traditions than we are being led to believe."

But SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said there were signs of progress at Rasharkin compared to previous difficult years where large numbers of bands parading in a mainly nationalist village had created a feeling of menace.

"Rasharkin is a good bit calmer than on previous occasions," he said. They have reduced the number of bands significantly and that's very useful. I think gradually we're coming to a solution here."

Mr McKay said the parade organisers need to talk to residents. "The village is facing a huge security operation once again. All of this is unnecessary.

"At the end of the day the only way that Rasharkin will be resolved is when the organisers of this parade sit down and talk to residents in the village."

There has been tension in the village linked to the parade for a number of years. The worst violence was in 2009 when three police officers were injured as serious disorder broke out.

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