Friday (18th August) nights parade in the village of Rasharkin has once again passed off relatively peacefully and in accordance with the Parades Commission determination despite having to finish 30 minutes earlier that requested.
As with previous years only a maximum of 25 bands were allowed to participate in the parade from the list supplied to the Parades Commission. A single drum beat was also imposed on the bands along a section of the route on Main Street.
Unlike last year which saw Dervock Flute Band banned from taking no part in the parade, this year that restriction was not imposed as part of the determination.
FUSE FM Ballymoney speaking prior to the parade spoke to the PSNI, they were confident that the parade would pass off without incident and that the measures put in place by themselves and the marshals would add to this confidence.
As well as the parade, two separate protest demonstrations were permitted by the Parades Commission with a maximum of 50 participants allowed in each.
Speaking before the parade, North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said in regards to the Parades Commission determination that it was;
Unnecessarily restricted. The history of the parade is that the organisers acting and conducting themselves in exemplary fashion yet those in opposition have acted inappropriately, but the consequences for some years now sees punitive restrictions by the Parades Commission, punishing them that have been keeping the law.
Rasharkin Residents’ Association protested at Main Street in the village outside the Euro Spar. During the course of the parade the protesters along with Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan held their protest in relative silence as the bands passed.
Also in attendance at the parade were representatives from the DUP and UUP. North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey said the determination was;
Totally and absolutely ridiculous. Ballymaconnelly have been subjected to unaccountable, unelected people who are determined to divide the village of Rasharkin.
Speaking about the protest, Mr Storey said that he was planning on raising serious issues with the PSNI regards the nature of some of the placards that the Collective were displaying which seemed to support dissident republican organisations.
Mr Storey also said that he could count on one hand the amount of protesters from the village and that the protest was just;
Contrived protest by republicans which will eventually run out of steam and the parade will continue.
The Rasharkin Residents’ Collective protest took place slightly up from the Residents’ Association. Unlike the Residents’ Association, this protest was more vocal. As several of the bands passed playing the single drum beat set out in the determination, a selection of the protesters heckled the band members asking them to ‘PLAY A TUNE’. The hackles weren’t only restricted to the band members. Several elected representatives, mainly the DUP’s Mervyn Storey and the TUV’s Jim Allister, also were heckled with Mervyn Storey at one point accused of intimidation and was asked to move away and watch the bands elsewhere by the protesters.
UUP leader and North Antrim MLA Robin Swann was also in the vicinity during these hackles. Mr Swann said;
I’m disappointed at the language used towards the bands. Respect and equality was not what was being demonstrated by the Residents’ Collective. I would like to see the Parades Commission ease the restrictions and allow Ballymaconnelly to parade the village. Bad behaviour from the protesters is being rewarded.
Despite the verbal abuse from one of the protest sites the parade itself passed off peacefully and after the parade left Main Street the majority of the protesters and parade spectators quickly dispersed. A few youths from the nearby protest however gathered beside the pub and police were the target of this groups anger verbally. Police however quickly intervened in numbers and this was quickly under control.
Shortly after the last band left Main Street, Shaun Hanna the chairperson of the Rasharkin Residents’ Collective had this to say.
Happy enough the night went reasonably well. Very concerned however with the 12th July coming next year and approximately 5-10,000 people expected to a village of only 1,000 residents
Tonight people sitting with health care visits they didn’t get, sitting on their own. MLAs who didn’t display any leadership tonight and stood on the opposite side of the street and provoked the situation. Rasharkin Residents’ Collective will next week be meeting with SDLP leader Column Eastwood and will be raising this leadership issue.
Despite the relative peaceful nature of the parade and the protest in recent years, a resolution has still yet to be achieved between both side making the parade and protest a matter for contention for the Parades Commission who will likely continue to impose restrictions on the parade until, if any, compromises are made.
NB. Unfortunatly as our reporter was leaving the Main Street area of the village, close to the Residents’ Collective protest site, they were approached by a male and challanged about pictures they had been taken of the protest. After this they were given what the reporter took as a threat. This matter has been passed to the PSNI for investigation.