Unionist politicians have praised Ballymaconnelly Flute Band for the “exemplary” way in which they behaved at Friday night’s parade in Rasharkin.
However, Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay said that the parade breached Parades Commission rulings by flying UVF and UDA flags and by the participation of a band named after UVF member Geoffrey Freeman.
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: “What is clear from Friday night’s parade is that Republicans are divided on how to deal with their neighbours.
“Having two separate protests was yet another example of how they cannot agree amongst themselves and yet these are the people who lecture us on leadership.
“But what is more telling about the protests on Friday night is just how unrepresentative they are of the people of Rasharkin.”
Mr Storey said that if protesters from outside Rasharkin were taken out of the equation, then “they could all have been accommodated in a phone box”.
“Surely it is time for these unrepresentative groups who have delivered nothing for the village of Rasharkin to call off their display of hatred and sectarian bile and recognise that their actions have no place in a shared future.
“As for the Parades Commission, this year’s determination is proof, if any were needed, that it is long past the time for it to go. This year’s ruling had neither logic or reason, rather it was a display of just how void of any understanding the Commission has of the issues in Rasharkin.
“Issues of parades in Rasharkin and Dunloy need to be included in the Inquiry called for by the Unionist leadership and the Orange Order in relation to the situation in North Belfast. It is totally unacceptable that Ballymaconnelly Band and the Loyal Orders in Dunloy are treated in this way.”
Ulster Unionist Councillor Darryl Wilson said: “The Ballymaconnelly parade is always conducted with dignity and in a peaceful manner and this year’s parade was no different.
“With the Parades Commission bowing to republican pressure, a new provocative imposition was placed on the parade, whereby bands could only play a single drumbeat while passing protesters, coupled with the previous restriction of a limit of 25 bands.
“These restrictions have proven to be complete overkill. Two small protests should not require such impositions from the Parades Commission, or such a vast presence by the PSNI, including helicopter surveillance, costing the taxpayer an excessive amount of money.”
UUP North Antrim MLA Robin Swann said: “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 was 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?
“I hope that the local nationalist politicians can replicate this tolerance and not be drawn into petty nitpicking in regard to the parade and castigating the organisers, while asking them to talk to them in the same breath.”
DUP councillor Alan McLean said: “Despite Republican intolerance and a Parades Commission determination designed to humiliate parade participants, Ballymaconnelly Flute Band are to be commended for the exemplary way in which they and their fellow participants behaved
“I, along with my fellow DUP colleagues, watched on as a small and non representative group of Republicans, aided by the Parades Commission, attempted to further undermine the Protestant community of Rasharkin. They will not succeed.
“Furthermore, though all participants followed the illogical parades commission ruling, the determination of a single drumbeat past Republican protesters must not be allowed to become the status quo.
“I commend the leadership shown by Ballymaconnelly Flute Band and want to congratulate them on once again excelling in the face of Republican intolerance. I will continue to work with the band and my colleagues to find a resolution to these matters.”
DUP councillor John Finlay said: “By pandering to a small hardline, insatiable and unrepresentative group of Republicans in
this way, the Commmission has confirmed that it is quite prepared to trample on the civil liberties of Protestants as long as Republican demands are met.
“This sends out the very alarming signal that the mere threat of protest will work and that, as a result, there will be more and more concessions to protestors and more and more restrictions on the parade.
“By that logic, there will come a day when no Orange feet will be allowed on the streets of Rasharkin which is, of course, precisely what the protestors really want. However, I can assure these militants that we have no intention of letting that happen.
“We will not surrender our civil liberties and we fully intend to continue to walk the streets of Rasharkin. Those narrow-minded and intolerant Republican protestors who gathered on Friday evening have very little community support, and it is imperative that the cowardly policy of appeasing them is brought to an end.
“I have asked for a meeting with the PSNI and the Parades Commission to discuss the broader issues, including breaches of the
Commission determination by the protestors.”
However, Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay 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.
“The cost of the policing operation for this parade, which included a large number of police on the ground and a helicopter, is also a concern.
“At a time when budgets are under pressure this kind of expenditure should not be necessary and is unhelpful.
“This parade has been causing problems in Rasharkin for many years and it is time the organisers entered into real and meaningful dialogue with local residents to find a solution.
“Dialogue is the only way to solve difficulties around contentious parades.
“The Haass proposals on dealing the parades, flags and the past offered a way forward and I am calling on Unionists to implement those proposals and to return to talks on parades.”