Reaction to Rasharkin events

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REACTION has come in from several quarters following the controversial parade and protest in Rasharkin on Friday night.

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay has said that he believes that “there can be no more excuses” for not seeking to resolve the issue of the Ballymaconnelly band parade.

Mr McKay said that residents feel intimidated by the parade and as a result a number of them moved out of the village on Friday night.

Mr McKay said: “In the run-up to this parade there was a great sense of fear in the village as to what could happen given past experience of the pressure cooker this settlement becomes when over 40 loyalist bands are squeezed into it.

“There is now a sense of relief that no residents were attacked or property damaged, as happened in previous years but the real damage can be measured in terms of the effect on community relations here. People did move out of the village on the night rather than sit in their homes through the parade and that is totally unacceptable and is an indicator of how intimidated local residents felt on Friday night.”

He said the number of bands and references to UDA and UVF “and the fact that this parade is intimidatory by its sheer scale are among the issues that need addressed”.

Mr McKay added: “If there is a genuine willingness on behalf of the DUP Mayor of Ballymoney to ensure that we have some form of lasting peace in Rasharkin then surely he too must recognise that ensuring the parade organisers talk to residents is the way forward. There is a clear opportunity to resolve this situation and it will be irresponsible and indeed wreckless for any party to now not engage in a resolution process.”

Rasharkin Sinn Féin representative Laoi Aine Ni Pheacoig added: “Residents here do not want these outstanding issues to continue unaddressed nor do they want some of the anti-community activity which has taken place such as the burning of bins on the Main Street.

“We lobbied to get Roads Service to invest thousands of pounds into the village to resurface the Main Street only months ago and that is why local people are angry at their Main Street being damaged in this way.

“We have contacted Roads Service to have this resurfaced again. We also contacted Roads Service late on Friday night to ensure the street lights were fixed after they failed to come on. A number of residents contacted us as being left in darkness like they were left them feeling quite vulnerable given recent tensions.”

Meanwhile, Mr McKay has lodged a number of complaints with the PSNI regarding anti-Catholic comments and a “death threat towards myself”.

Mr McKay claimed an individual has been “making threatening comments towards me and the Catholic community in general on the Facebook website.”

The MLA added: “I have reported his threatening comments toward me personally to the PSNI as well as his references to ‘KAT’ (Kill all Taigs) and ‘scum in Rasharkin’.

He said the police handling of the case is being monitored by the local community as a “litmus test” of how serious they take sectarian death threats in the Ballymoney area.

The Rasharkin Residents Association has thanked everyone who participated in the “peaceful protest” against the Ballymaconnelly parade on Friday night.

A spokesperson said: “Access to houses at Churchfields and Valley View is still an issue and we don’t feel there is a need to allow supporters up this far into the village. Yes, the perspex barriers to prevent supporters from climbing the walls was an improvement, and was a result of repeated complaints we made to the police, but at the end of the day whilst it keeps supporters out, it also boxes residents in.

“There is absolutely no reason why talks should not now begin between the Residents Association and the parade organisers. Indeed if the local priest and the DUP Mayor can speak to one another, if the Residents Association can speak to the DUP as we have done and indeed if all the unionist and nationalist political parties can speak amicably and with respect then there really is no excuse for the band engaging.

“Residents are certainly thankful that the parade was completed slightly after 9.30pm but the fact is that the band breached the determination which stated that the parade be completed by 9.30pm because they tried to pack 40 bands in through the village.

“This parade is disproportionate to the size of this village and has a number of excesses which clearly need addressed. Seeking to address these issues is a reasonable request and if dialogue can now begin with the Ballymaconnelly band we will be engaging in that process on the basis of mutual respect and being constructive. “All people want in Rasharkin is a quiet life all year round without fear and intimidation from any party. That is something we wish to pursue and if work towards that starts now we believe it is achievable.”

TUV Leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister has congratulated Ballymaconnelly Band on the organisation and conduct of their annual Rasharkin band on Friday night, 19th August.

In a statement the North Antrim MLA said: “Once more in the face of provocation and orchestrated hostility, and a malevolent Parades Commission, the Ballymaconnelly parade has taken place with great discipline and decorum.

“I congratulate the organisers and the spectators who conducted themselves so well. It was a great spectacle of colour and culture, to which no one except those determined to be offended, could object.

“Apart from the corral of malcontents, swollen by those they bussed in, the village as a whole took a mature and accepting attitude, confirming to me that the Parades Commission overreacted, as usual, to the demands of the malevolent few. Hence, the unwarranted prohibition on the parade returning down the main street.

“Likewise, by extending the recent ban on entering Sunnyside Drive to the upcoming RBP parade the Commission has compounded its folly of dancing to the anti-libertarian demands of politically motivated protestors.

“It is unfortunate such a huge police operation was necessary to guarantee the basic right of freedom of assembly. I join in thanking the police for their contribution to a successful evening in Rasharkin.”

North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey has congratulated Ballymaconnolly Band following their Annual Parade on Friday evening.

Mr Storey said: “Yet again, against a background of sectarian opposition by a small unrepresentative group of Republicans and the illogical determinations from the Parades Commission, Ballymaconnelly have held their 31st annual parade. And have again conducted themselves in a way that is a credit to them and the Protestant Community of Rasharkin.

“Despite the orchestrated sectarian opposition the Band and spectators behaved with dignity and respect, in stark contrast to the disgraceful behaviour of the protesters.

“People who need petrol bombs, paint bombs, masks and use intimidating and threatening behaviour will never be satisfied by the pandering of the Parades Commission to their sectarian wish list, with regards to the parade. “This small unrepresentative Republican group has always had the intent of having the parade stopped, thankfully they have failed!

“This protest and those who have organised and encouraged it, have only tarnished the name of Rasharkin and the majority of the decent people who live in it. Their sectarian attitudes and actions have created a poison that is a benefit to no one. It is now time for all this organised sectarian opposition to come to an end.

“I will be meeting with the police to discuss issues arising from the protest. I will also be raising the report of masked men in the village of Rasharkin at the weekend who tried to conduct an illegal road stop. I also intend to meet the Secetary of State to ensure that he is made fully aware of the disgraceful determinations handed out by the Parades Commission.”

Ballymoney DUP Councillor John Finlay has hailed the annual Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Band competition in Rasharkin on Friday night as a huge success.

He praised the organisers, bands and spectators for behaving peacefully and with dignity, “which was in stark contrast to the protesters who jeered and shouted abuse at the bands as they passed”.

Mr Finlay said: “I praise Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors for an excellent display of talent tonight in Rasharkin. Despite the restrictions placed upon the bands it offered an excellent night for all with an outstanding display shown by the bands.

“I praise the spectators and all the bands that took part for behaving peacefully and with dignity. This was in stark contrast to the protesters who jeered and shouted abuse at the band members as they walked passed them. This was shameful, a reflection of hatred and intolerance and a disgraceful reflection on the protesters rather than the bands,” said the local DUP councillor.

A Royal Black Preceptory parade is due to be held in Rasharkin this Saturday but there are restrictions in place regarding the Sunnyside estate.

Councillor Finlay has hit out at the Parades Commission after placing restrictions.

He said that this ruling was “deeply concerning” as it was the first time such a restriction had been placed on the Sir Knights.

Mr Finlay added: “The determination effectively bans the Royal Black Preceptory from walking through the Sunnyside estate, where a number of Protestants’ live.

“The Parades Commission is pandering to Republican objectives in the village which is to chase and bully Protestants’ out of Rasharkin.

“I am horrified and appalled at this ruling by the Parades’ Commission and this offers further evidence that this body needs to go.

“This is the first time the Royal Black Preceptory in Rasharkin have been effectively banned from part of their route and it is therefore very concerning. The area of Sunnyside is a mixed estate but home to a significant number of Protestants’ left in Rasharkin.

“The Parades Commission are pandering to Republican objectives 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. Members of the Royal Black Preceptory have shown nothing but respect for the local community and abided by previous Parades Commission rulings. This decision is therefore out of the blue and totally out of order.

“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 see 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.

“I call on the Parades Commission to review their decision and to make a decision which doesn’t discriminate against law bidding citizens.”

Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman, has branded the Parades Commission’s decision to reroute a Royal Black parade through Rasharkin as “irresponsible in the extreme”.

Assemblyman Swann, who is also North Antrim UUP Chairman and a Past Master in the Black, said: “As someone who is proud to say that he is a member of the Royal Black Institution and the other Loyal Orders, I utterly condemn the Parades decision to reroute Rasharkin Crimson Arrow RBP 989 on its return parade following the County Antrim demonstration.

“It is a shame and disgrace that RBP 989 will not be allowed to parade Sunnyside Drive. This decision is not only an insult to common sense, it is a huge slap in the face to the Royal Black Institution which is a religious order. “I cannot comprehend the decision to re-route a religious organisation, especially given the history of this peaceful parade.

“The Parades Commission refers to heightened tensions in the community, but the reality is it is the Commission’s decisions that are raising the tensions.

“I attended the recent Ballyconnolly Parade and witnessed the sectarian and religious abuse the bands came under and I cannot understand the Parades Commission’s decision to penalise the Royal Black and reward the performance of the protestors when making this decision.

“The Parades Commission needs to reverse its decision as soon as possible in the interests of common sense,” said Assemblyman Swann.