North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay has welcomed the additional restrictions that have been placed on the Ballymaconnolly parade in Rasharkin this Friday night.
The parade has had the number of bands allowed to participate reduced for the first time from 44 down to 25.
He said: “Clearly the additional restrictions on the Ballymaconnolly band parade are to be welcomed and the reduction in band numbers is a step in the right direction by the Parades Commission.
“Ultimately though the determination should have went further and the only way this contentious parade can be resolved is through dialogue between local residents and the Ballymaconnolly band. The determination issued makes a clear reference to that and also the fact that the band’s stance on engaging with residents is unacceptable.
“For the first time the Commission have said that only a limited number of flags can be unfurled along the most contentious part of the route.
“The Residents Association have made it clear that they are willing to accomodate unionist parades that are of an acceptable size and which are not intimidating or sectarian in nature. That is a reasonable position. Rather than cause further division the band needs to now sit down and talk.”
Disagreeing, TUV Leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister hit out stating: “The Parades Commission’s decision to restrict Friday night’s Ballymaconnolly parade in Rasharkin to 25 bands is yet another deliberate attempt by the Commission to humiliate the Protestant community in Rasharkin.
“There is no possible justification for this gratuitous act. Last year 40 bands successfully processed within the allotted time. The same can be done this year, but out of vindictive venom the Commission has imposed this diktat, as year on year it tightens the screw to advance the ultimate republican ambition of no Orange feet in Rasharkin.
“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 than ever before.”
Backing Mr Allister, DUP Councillor John Finlay added: “The outrageous decision by the Parades Commission in relation to the annual Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors flute band parade in Rasharkin this Friday evening is yet another reminder that this Commission has lost all credibility and respect and has to go.
“Almost every single time, it seems, the Commission panders to the threat of violence and punishes those who merely seek to exercise their civil and religious liberties in a peaceful and law-abiding manner.
“This popular annual band parade draws large crowds and yet it is to be reduced from 40 bands to 25. Why? Because the Commission is only interested in responding to bully-boys who threaten to resort to violence if they do not get their way. Principles and fairness are set aside in favour of cowardice and appeasement.
“The Commission chairman, Peter Osborne, illustrated the Commission’s inbuilt bias when he chatted openly to dissident republicans in Rasharkin on Saturday evening last during the Apprentice Boys return parade through the village. Surely an impartial chairman would not act in such a manner. The feelings of anger are running high within the Protestant community in Rasharkin and I would appeal to the Commission to see sense. Sadly, I have no great confidence that it will do so.”