Anger at Ballymena march provocation
Anger at Ballymena march provocation

Nationalists have reacted angrily after unionist bandsmen broke a deal struck last week surrounding a contentious parade in Ballymena on Saturday.

Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP say they will meet with the Parades Commission this week after a number of bands with paramilitary links stopped outside the town’s All Saints Catholic church and played loyalists tunes during a parade in the County Antrim town on Saturday night.

A number of bands carried Ulster Volunteer Force flags while bystanders shouted chants of support for the UDA, later gathering in an area outside the Catholic church.

Nationalists acted with dismay last week when Parades Commission chiefs declined to issue a determination in respect of Saturday’s parade.

Instead, a deal was struck with parade organisers, Pride of the Maine Flute Band, who gave an undertaking that the parade would be “respectful and dignified”.

Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan last night branded the behaviour of some of the participating bands and their supporters as “grossly inappropriate and unacceptable”.

“Some of the bands played loudly and their drumming was loud and it was clearly deliberate as they passed around the area of the chapel. At certain times there was substantial chanting from them and two or three times they turned to face the observers.

“We will be seeking further discussions with the Parades Commission.”

Ballymena Sinn Féin councillor Monica Digney had harsh words for the DUP.

“We again saw the presence of many loyalist paramilitary bands, including the Freeman Memorial Band, named after a UVF man who blew himself up in Coleraine in the 1970s - so the words from the DUP that these flags somehow represent the UVF of 1912 have clearly been shown up as being a complete lie.

“The DUP’s official band from south Down was another one of the worst offenders on the night and actually stopped next to where we were standing to put on a triumphalist display.

“Nationalists have gathered a catalogue of visual and written evidence which we will be forwarding onto both the Parades Commission and Police Ombudsman.

“The PSNI deliberately allowed loyalists to stand within feet of Catholics to both shout abuse and intimidate them.”

Tensions in the County Antrim town have been running high since Catholic boy Michael McIlveen was murdered last month.

The 15-year-old was making his way home after a night out when he was attacked by a unionists gang and later died from his injuries.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News