Villagers concerned as parade tensions escalate
There have been fears that a loyalist parade through the strongly nationalist village of Rasharkin in County Antrim this evening could provoke disorder.
The annual parade through Rasharkin, which normally attracts around 40 bands, has seen large protests from residents in previous years.
Although the Parades Commission, which has the power to adjudicate on sectarian parades, has directed that only 25 bands take part this year, residents remain strongly opposed to the parade.
Meanwhile, unionist hardliners have escalated tension by calling for a show of strength in defiance of the commission’s ruling. Jim Allister of the extreme TUV party called on his supporters to turn up “in greater numbers than ever before”.
Just hours after the Parade Commission’s decision was announced, a woman’s car was burnt out in the village in an apparent sectarian attack.
Two nationalist residents groups -- Rasharkin Residents Association and Rasharkin Residents Collective -- will hold separate protests against the parade [this] Friday evening.
The commission criticised the parade’s organiser, Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band, for its “unacceptable” refusal to take part in talks with residents.
The commission also insisted that all flags; bar the Union flag, Ulster banner, Scottish and St Patrick satires and the Orange standard; must be kept furled along the most contentious part of the route. The march remains one of the north’s “most contentious and challenging parading situations” the commission said.
It expressed concern that there had been no progress towards any agreement since 2010 and urged everyone involved to discuss whether such a large parade was ‘sustainable’ in a small village.
The village is in the middle of a dissident loyalist killing zone which has seen nine people murdered -- four of them children -- since the good Friday agreement was signed.
A long-planned ‘Poc Fada’ road hurling competition is to be held in the village also this evening, and is set to be disrupted by the parade.
Before the Parades Commission ruling, a spokesperson for Rasharkin Residents Collective made a call for support “to assist in the defence of our rich and beautiful Irish culture and heritage”.
He said one controversial band, the ‘Ballymaconelly Sons of Conquerers’, had been convicted of making offensive anti-Catholic comments, and had made threats made towards a local politician and towards residents.
“The village has suffered years of attacks on local church and nationalist halls and homes. It would appear both the Parades Commission and PSNI/RUC is prepared to crumble in the face of these loyalist threats and intimidation,” he said.
North Antrim Sinn Féin assembly member Daithi McKay welcomed the extra restrictions but said they should have gone further.
He said concerns about the parade can only be resolved when Ballymaconnolly band agrees to talk to residents.
He said the other residents’ group, the Rasharkin Residents Association, had made it clear that they are “willing to accommodate unionist parades that are of an acceptable size and which are not intimidating or sectarian in nature”.
That is “a reasonable position”, he added.