NORTH Antrim DUP MLA Paul Frew has commended the work of the local community in Rasharkin and the individuals who dedicate their time helping to take the village forward.
He has also said that he would give these people and the community groups the support when called upon because he knows that there are people in the area who would like to see Rasharkin remain a “battle ground on the parades issue all year round and become an infamous capital of parade disputes.”
In an email to the Times, the MLA was commenting after he arrived late to a village renewal meeting held in the community centre last Thursday, “only to be told by people that the meeting had ended and it hadn’t went well”.
Mr Frew stated: “I have been told by many people since the meeting that a large crowd of twenty to thirty people who are opposed to the parading of the local loyal orders and band, joined the meeting and became very hostile to anything positive that was spoken of. They tried to intimidate the people and they wouldn’t sit down choosing to stand at the back and sides of the hall.
“They didn’t want the police involved and they didn’t want the village to avail of any funding until they had all parades stopped. This is an absolute shame and a quite disgraceful stance to take whenever there is so much at stake for all the people of the village from the community organisations to the local businesses.
“Apart from the negative element there was a good attendance of all sections of the Rasharkin community and we need to capture that spirit if the village is going to enjoy regeneration. This meeting was an essential part of the process to agree the priorities for the village and to get it down on a village plan in order to move further up the process of receiving funding through the Rural Development Process, something most villages of Rasharkin’s size have entered into already and there is a real concern that if Rasharkin does not move forward then they will lose out.
“This is something the community cannot let happen and I will assist them in whatever way I can. This is about new sporting facilities, outdoor gym equipment, additional car parking spaces to assist the local businesses and community space that will assist and educate young and old in the local community the possibilities are endless.”
Cllr Frew also had a message for those who are opposed to the process and the parading issue and “quite frankly everything in Rasharkin that brings the community together and is a force for good.”
He said: “There is a place for them in this process just as there is for every other body in Rasharkin whether that be the local Band or a local church group. Get involved if you wish but do not hold the village to ransom and do not intimidate the very people who have the best interests of Rasharkin in their hearts and minds and who have been working for years to keep the village afloat.
“Even through the darkest days of the troubles these community groups and the people in them kept the village from becoming a paramilitary quagmire, I don’t think society yet realises how important community groups were in keeping Northern Ireland together during the terrorist campaign.
“This shadowy group will punish all walks of life in Rasharkin if they are allowed to continue down this hostile path and the community needs supported in order to resist that challenge just like in the days of the troubles,” said Mr Frew.