A LEADING member of the Loyal Orders in Dunloy and a former North Antrim MLA have clashed over a proposed Apprentice Boys parade in Dunloy on Sunday.

The war of words began when John Finlay responded to comments made by Declan O’Loan, who said a parade in Dunloy at this time was “an impossibility” given the continued absence of engagement between Loyal Order members and the local community.

The parade is due to take place in Dunloy on Sunday afternoon but as has been the case for years, the Parades Commission has imposed restrictions preventing the traditional march from the Orange hall to the Presbyterian Church where a service is held.

Sunday’s parade is one of a number throughout the marching season which been restricted for years leading to growing frustration amongst the Dunloy brethren who insist they are being denied their basic human right to cultural indentity and the right to worship.

Mr. O’Loan has called on the Parades Commission to remain firm and issue a determination preventing the Apprentice Boys parade from going through the village of Dunloy.

The SDLP North Antrim Chair said: “In the continued absence of engagement with the local community by the Apprentice Boys, this parade should be restricted so that it does not enter the village.

“I have put that view to the Parades Commission. The Apprentice Boys will doubtless say that this is a proposed parade to a church on a Sunday. But there is much more to any loyal order parade than a mere excursion to church.

“The history of problems with parades in Dunloy and the unacceptability of them to the local population mean that a parade is an impossibility at the present time. This can only be addressed by the Apprentice Boys entering into serious engagement with local residents.

“The Parades Commission has routinely, and rightly, served a determination on every loyal order parade in Dunloy since 1998. It is futile to apply for such parades without showing evidence of real and meaningful engagement. I am confident that the Parades Commission will sustain its entirely appropriate approach on this occasion.”

Responding to the statement Mr. Finlay accused Councillor O’Loan of displaying what he termed as “an alarming degree of political intransigence against the Protestant community.”

Mr. Finlay said: “The SDLP promotes itself as the party of civil rights and equality for all, but its words and its actions tell a very different story. It seems to me that the priority for the SDLP at the present time is to play the green card.

“Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the party’s growing intolerance towards loyal order parades, where now it is actively seeking to deny the playing of hymns. These parades, especially those to and from a church, are expressions of our Protestant faith and heritage, and yet Declan O’Loan, in an alarming display of intransigence, is now calling for the Parades Commission to ‘remain firm’and refuse to permit the Apprentice Boys of Derry church parade through the village on Sunday.

“Councillor O’Loan has also displayed an amazing degree of arrogance by pronouncing upon the purpose and nature of loyal order parades. He tells us that ‘there is much more to any loyal order parade than a mere excursion to church.’

“I really am not sure just how he is he qualified to make such pronouncements, but members of the loyal orders and the Protestant community in general will not take kindly to being lectured to in such a patronising manner.

“Even at this late stage, I would urge Councillor O’Loan to show leadership by supporting the rights of Protestants in Dunloy. Sadly, that is probably a forlorn hope, but, at the very least, I would like him to explain precisely how his negative attitude towards the Dunloy parade advances the SDLP’s purported vision of civil rights for all”.

In their determination, the parades Commission confirmed that the only representation on the parade came from a local SDLP representative.

They were not aware of any significant engagement between the parade organisers and the local residents and considered that should the parade proceed as notified it could have an adverse effect on community relations.

The Commission said they were continuing to explore any possibilities for dialogue and encouraged both sides to get together. They also pointed out that the decsion to imose restrictions should not be seen as a victory for parade objectors over parade organisers.