Rasharkin parade passes off peacefully

Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band
Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band

A highly contested parade in Rasharkin which broke new ground in terms of restrictions passed off peacefully tonight night amid heavy security.

Unionists were angered that the Parades Commission forced 25 bands to play only single drum beats as they passed two groups of nationalist protestors in the 30-year-old annual event.

Sinn Fein claimed that UDA and UVF flags were present but the TUV last night denied this.

Party leader Jim Allister said the single drum beat was “imposed to show deference to those who put themselves in the way of being offended”, saying the single drum beat had only ever been imposed before when passing a place of worship.

There was no abuse or violence last night. Most people in Rasharkin were either “out watching” or stayed in, he said.

“The streets were lined with up to 2,000 spectators, many of whom would have come from the general area in their cars,” he said.

The Parades Commission told the News Letter that the single drum beat had been imposed when passing protestors after the bands’ “lack of direct engagement with the local community” despite efforts to start such talks since 2011.

The commission warned the bands last year that “continued failure to enter dialogue will have a significant bearing on the commission’s view of the parade”.

The watchdog also cited “severe disruption to the predominantly nationalist village” from the annual parade, with freedom of movement disrupted for up to seven hours.

However, a spokesman for the Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band say they have organised the parade for 30 years and that their members almost all come from the local area.

“We have engaged with the local community in mediation set up by Mediation NI over the past four years in a forum run by the local council,” the spokesman said.

He confirmed they had not engaged with the two protest groups because they are “small minority groups and not representative of the community”.

But Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said the parade breached Parades Commission determinations.

“Both UDA and UVF flags were flown during the parade and one of the bands taking part was named after UVF member Geoffrey Freeman,” he said.

He added: “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.”

However, Mr Allister said that he saw no terror-related flags.

Naming the band after a UVF member “would not be my choice” but it is not a breach of any determination, he added.