Controversy in Rasharkin

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CONTROVERSY continues to surround marches and parades in Rasharkin.

The Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band annual parade will take place in the village this Friday night.

Statements have been made by the Band and Unionist and Nationalist representatives.

The Parades Commission has banned the parade from returning through the centre of Rasharkin.

The Commission had also banned Apprentice Boys from marching into Sunnyside Drive in Rasharkin last Saturday.

The band’s statement said: “On Friday 19th August 2011, Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band will hold their 31st annual competition parade and fundraiser. Once again the band has been punished by the Parades Commission for no logical reason other than to appease those who are opposed to us, and cause more division within our community by diverting the parade outside the village on its return leg.

“The notified route will therefore be assembly at Turnpike, then Church Road, Main Street, Moneyleck Road, Bann Road, Glebe Road then right onto Church Road again to dispersal. The Parades Commission has also seen fit to reduce the bands’ parade time, with starting now at 7.30pm and dispersal by 9.30pm.

“Again, this puts the band under pressure to have its parade in a dignified manner, and by reducing our time firmly shows no respect being granted to us and our culture.

“The Band has always been proactive in its stance within the community, and over the last 30 years no law has been broken in the holding of our competition parade and fundraiser, however, this cannot be said for the protest held in opposition to our parade.”

The band statement said the band and visiting bands have been “subjected to a torrent of sectarian abuse and intimidation”.

The statement added: “However, the Band does not see itself as having a political agenda, unlike those opposed to us, and does not wish to offend anyone by holding our annual night, therefore will not be made a political football, but instead run our parade to the best of our ability, as we always do.

“The Band also wants to make welcome those who come year in year out over our history to support us, but we make it very clear those who wish to inflame tensions and cause trouble to stay away.

“As with previous years the Band will have a competition on the night with the best overall band receiving the Richard Laverty Memorial Shield,” said the statement.

Rasharkin-based Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said residents are “absolutely livid at the Parades Commission decision to allow 44 bands and thousands of loyalists to march through the nationalist village of Rasharkin again”.

Mr McKay said: “The Parades Commission should knock on every door in this village and ask residents whether they want this parade ... its participants urinating in gardens, with verbal and physical assaults on villagers and pure sectarian nature visited upon them year after year.

“If they did they would know that their decision has given the green light to a dangerous sectarian ... jamboree through this village.

“The Commission had an opportunity to place a restriction on this parade which would have outlawed the display of ... flags – they failed to do that. They could have placed a restriction on 44 bands playing sectarian music past the residents protest – they didn’t.

“They could have re-routed this parade away from the centre of the village and ensured that there wasn’t an interface created on the Main Street and they ignored that request.

“This band and the parade organisers have refused to engage with the residents who live in this village for many years now. There is absolutely no onus on them to engage as long as the Commission continue to let them have their way.”

Mr McKay alleged community relations have been “destroyed” and said the situation will “only worsen” as loyalists are “allowed to take over Rasharkin” and “intimidate residents.”

North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: “Yet again we have seen evidence, if evidence were ever needed, for the dismantling of the Parades Commission. Having imposed a totally illogical determination with regard to the Apprentice Boys feeder parade, excluding them from Sunnyside, the Parades Commission then continued to compound this disgraceful determination by imposing a one way route for the Ballymaconnelly parade.

“When it comes to this Commission it is clear that they are more content to listen to the sectarian and anti-parade logic of the residents association rather than the facts of what it is like for the Protestant community to live and express their identity in the village.

“It is clear from this one sided determination that the Commission is more intent on placing restrictions on the parade organisers, who have never been found in breach of any determination, rather than on the protest ... who have not only breached previous determinations but have acted in a way that is to say the least disgraceful. This from an unrepresentative organisation who tell us that they want to be shown respect. To date all we have seen and heard from this group and their political masters in SF is double standards and double talk.

“SF has encouraged and supported this campaign ... against Ballymaconnelly Band and other parades in the village, yet trumpeting to the world that they are the champions of a shared society.

“Last week when I made representations to the Commission along with my party colleague Arlene Foster, I urged the Commission not to further compound their scandalous errors with another relating to the upcoming Ballymaconnelly parade.

“The Protestant community in Rasharkin and the majority of the Roman Catholic community want to see an end to the attitude and actions of a small and unrepresentative group who present themselves as a residents association.

“The situation in Rasharkin demonstrates that the political masters of that group can only speak with a forked tongue regarding a shared future in Northern Ireland. Rasharkin is a test case of their credentials and whether they can actually transform their rhetoric into actions on this issue. It is shameful that the failures of Republicans on this issue however are constantly rewarded by an ever compliant Parades Commission.

“However despite the challenges that such determinations and opposition brings I am glad that the parade through the village has been secured and that Ballymaconnelley will again celebrate their 31st Annual parade. I would congratulate the band on all their hard work and effort and I would appeal to those who come to support the band to do so in a way that is mindful of such difficulties and be respectful of the wishes of the band for a peaceful and enjoyable evening,” said Mr Storey.

Commenting on the Parades Commission determination on the Ballymaconnelly Parade in Rasharkin, TUV Leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said: “Permitting the parade to only go through the village on its outward leg and requiring it to return by ‘the country route’ is a sop to the protestors ...

“Instead of standing up to those who last year threw golf balls and organised a hoax bomb, the Commission has rewarded them. No doubt, even that will not satisfy them as their mission is to keep the parade entirely out of the village.

“It is unnecessary and wrong that the traditional route up and back down the main street is being restricted.

“It is imperative this year that the policing presence is adequate to prevent the disruptive planting of a hoax device.

“Likewise ... protestors must be retained within an allocated area and not allowed to spill onto the main road whereby they bring their ... antics closer to the passing parade. I have already made representations to the PSNI Commander on these issues.”

Mayor of Ballymoney, Councillor Ian Stevenson (DUP) has called for “calm and cool heads on all sides, ahead of the forthcoming Ballymaconnelly parade in Rasharkin on Friday night”.

He has called for people to be “restrained and not to react or provoke reaction and to use the lawful channels available to deal with issues of concern.”

He also stated: “It is, and has always been possible, to have a peaceful parade and protest and is my sincere hope and prayer that commonsense will prevail on the night. We only have one life and we can either make the world better or worse. It is my hope that people will step back and look at what sort of world they wish to live in. It is my prayer that all will pass peacefully, and firm belief that hatred and intolerance is never the answer, from wherever it comes.”

Ballymoney DUP councillor, John Finlay, hit out at the Parades Commission after placing restrictions on the Annual Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Band parade.

He said that this ruling prevented the band from walking its traditional route and that it would be viewed as a “reward for violence and thuggery”.

He also stated that the Parades Commission was “pandering to Republican objectives in the village which is to chase and bully Protestants’ out of Rasharkin”.

Cllr Finlay said: “I am outraged at this ruling by the Parades’ Commission who once again are set on discriminating against members of the Protestant community. This decision yet again offers further evidence that this body needs to go and would have been better going last year when the proposals were on the table.

“Once again the organisers and competitors involved in this parade, which is a highlight for many of the year, have been banned from walking their return route in their own village.

“Last year we saw Republicans engage in thuggery, violence ... as band members were delayed for several hours due to a security alert, whereby a device was left at the Orange Hall.

“The Parades Commission have shown themselves to once again pander to Republican demands despite their despicable behaviour last year, as in previous years.

“The Parades Commission is meeting and seeing through the objectives of Republican hoods in the village, which is to chase and bully Protestants out of the village.

“It was only a matter of weeks ago that a Protestant resident had his car destroyed by Republicans in an arson attack. This ruling is one which discriminates and condemns Protestants’ despite them having done nothing wrong.

“This ruling, amongst many others this summer, provides clear evidence that the Parades Commission needs to go. “Last year my party put forward proposals which would have seen this unelected quango go but due to the actions of a minority these proposals were unable to be put into effect. This would have seen this body quashed and common sense prevailing.”

Comment has also been made by local representatives following the banning of an Apprentice Boys parade from Sunnyside Drive in Rasharkin on Saturday.

Daithi McKay slammed an “over the top” policing operation in Rasharkin.

Mr McKay said that local people walking from Mass were prevented from getting home by a line of police officers.

Mr McKay said: “The police put in place a completely over the top policing operation tonight and members were clearly directed to move on everybody who was on the street including those standing outside their own homes. They also refused to allow those coming from Mass to return to their homes.”

He was critical of the police operation and said it “took no account of the impact upon the local community.”

Added Mr McKay: “In one instance two middle-aged men were outside one of the mens’ home, well away from the parade, and two TSG officers flanked them in a highly intimidatory manner.”

Added Mr McKay: “The parade itself stopped outside Sunnyside Drive, a clear breach of the Parades Commission determination and this incident must be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.”

Rasharkin Sinn Fein representative Laoi Aine Ni Pheacoig added: “The police hemmed in local people in the village tonight like animals, regardless if they were young or old, or interested in the parade or not. A number of local people were shoved and manhandled by officers for no reason other than wanting to return home or call to friends or relatives.

“Make no bones about it, this is a step back for relations between the community and the police in Rasharkin. We would rather have no police in the village on days like this if they are going to act like they’re in a riot situation,”

Councillor John Finlay praised the Rasharkin Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABOD) for the “dignity displayed on their return parade in Rasharkin amidst a serious display of Republican aggression.”

He said: “Members of the Rasharkin ABOD Club were subject to jeering, intimidation, shouting and abuse on their return by members of the Republican Community.

“I praise all those members of the Rasharkin Apprentice Boys of Derry Club for the dignity shown on their return parade back from Londonderry despite being subject to a wave of Republican aggression.

“Republicans behaved appallingly by shouting, jeering and intimidating local members of the ABOD Club. Their only reason for doing this was that these men were Protestants returning home from an enjoyable day in the Maiden City.

“The intimidation on display from Republicans was no more than a sectarian act and I do hope that the Parades Commission stand up and take note of this display of sectarian aggression.

“However, sadly, Protestants know only too well that this quango wasn’t established to protect and defend their right to walk on public roads that is why it must go once and for all.” said the local DUP councillor.