‘One of the most contentious and challenging parades’

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THE Parades Commission say the Ballmaconnelly Band Parade and the issues related to it “represent one of the most contentious and challenging parading situations” which they face.

The Parades Commission’s determination is that the following conditions are placed on the organiser and participants in the parade by Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band in Rasharkin on Friday, 19 August 2011.

“* The parade shall not turn about on the Moneyleck Road and shall not proceed to Bridge Street as notified. It shall instead continue on the Moneyleck Road and proceed directly to the junction of the Moneyleck Road and the Bann Road. The parade shall then turn left on to the Bann Road and proceed directly to Glebe Road, turning left on to Glebe Road. It shall then turn right from Glebe Road on to Church Road, resuming its notified route to the notified dispersal point.

“* The parade shall begin promptly, and shall disperse no later than 9.30pm.

“* The Commission notes the purpose of this event is ‘Annual Parade & Fundraiser’.

“* This parade and the issues related to it represent one of the most contentious and challenging parading situations facing the Parades Commission. Both those supporting and opposing the parade have made representations to the Commission in the strongest terms, and the Commission has had to make its decision in the face of compelling, and at times competing, evidence and information.

“* The organiser has notified a band parade to take place in which up to 44 invited bands will take part, and which will proceed through, and return along, the main thoroughfare of Rasharkin. The Commission notes that a protest has been notified in relation to this parade, and that there have been continuing tensions in the Rasharkin area in relation to parades.

“* The Commission has heard representations from Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band and from local residents’ representatives, and has had representation from political representatives in relation to the notification.

“* The Commission has heard from Rasharkin Residents Association and from local political representatives. They state that the parade is strongly opposed by many within the local nationalist community because of the large number of bands taking part in what is a small village; and because of reported sectarian behaviour and breaches of the Commission’s Code of Conduct by some of those taking part in the parade and by some parade supporters.

“* The residents’ group re-affirmed that those they represent are not, in principle, opposed to all loyalist and loyal order parades in Rasharkin. The group did, however, express its serious concerns that some of those taking part in the parade previously had not complied with the Commission’s Code of Conduct. The group also made clear its view that that the number of those taking part and supporting the Ballymaconnelly parade should be proportionate and manageable in what is a small and predominantly nationalist village.

“* Those representing the organising band have made clear to the Commission their view that those who object to the parade are unrepresentative of the Rasharkin community as a whole; and that opposition to the parade reflects a continuing process intended to exclude the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist side of the community from Rasharkin.

“* The Commission has taken account of concerns and objections by the band and its representatives in relation to reported breaches of the Code of Conduct by those taking part in the protest last year. The Commission has also heard that the band makes considerable efforts to ensure that the parade is well-organised and is not badly behaved.

“* The Commission has always been clear in its view that a solution to the issues surrounding this and other parades in Rasharkin will be greatly assisted through dialogue. Both the present Commission and its predecessors have asked both sides involved in the issue of parading in Rasharkin to enter into direct dialogue aimed at facilitating a lasting resolution to these issues.

“* The Commission has heard that a number of individuals and bodies have explored possible ways forward in Rasharkin, but to date, these efforts have not resulted in the establishment of a dialogue process. The Commission has now established such a process. While the band has not committed to this at present, the Commission believes it is imperative that it does so in the near future.

“* The Commission has closely examined whether a parade of this scale is sustainable in its notified form in a small village community such as Rasharkin. The Commission believes this is an issue which needs to be addressed in the future and which should form part of the dialogue process. The Commission will be seeking to resume its dialogue process soon after the parade has taken place.

“* The Commission is aware of difficulties facing such a process. The continuing absence of agreement reflects the further entrenchment of the views of those involved which can only prove damaging to community relations in north Antrim, and more widely in Northern Ireland. The Commission regrets that there has been no substantive progress towards any form of agreed outcome to the issues surrounding the parade since it issued its determination in 2010. “* In the absence of direct dialogue, and taking account of the representations it has heard, the Commission considers it appropriate on this occasion to place conditions on the parade. The Commission knows that its decision will not please all those who either support or oppose the parade. It should, however, be recognised that the issues related to this parade will require to be resolved whether or not this Commission continues to be the statutory body responsible for taking these most challenging decisions.

“* The Commission believes that this determination, in the absence of an agreed outcome, represents the best way in which both the purpose of the parade and of the related protest can be facilitated.”

Regarding a notified protest at this Friday night’s parade, the Commission said:

“* The Commission notes that the purpose of this parade-related protest has been notified as follows: “To Give The Residents, Their Relatives & Friends The Right To Protest Against A Sectarian Band Parade Coming Through The Village”. It notes also that the organiser has not provided contact details, and that the anticipated number of participants is unknown.

“In view of the continuing tensions in relation to this parade and the related protest, the Commission considers it appropriate to place conditions on this protest. The Commission has cause to believe that should the protest take place without conditions there may be an adverse effect on community relations and a potential for public disorder.”