The Parades Commission, which is supposed to adjudicate in disputes over sectarian parades in Catholic areas, has been accused of blithely ignoring breaches of its determinations by Protestant marchers.
Although restrictions had been placed on Saturday night’s parade in Balllymena, these were openly flauted by bands linked to unionist paramilitary organisations.
Parade supporters chanted support for the UDA, which has been linked to the sectarian murder of 15-year-old Michael McIlveen in recent months.
There were a number of breaches of the Parades Commission’s determination in regard to the playing of music and the display of paramilitary regalia which were designed both to intimidate and insult Catholic residents.
The Ballymena Protestant Boys Band carried UDA, UFF and UYM flags on numerous occasions and carried a bannerette referring to ‘South East Antrim’, the local UDA batallion area.
There were also a number of other ‘kick the pope’ sectarian bands that turned up and paraded without any notification or warning.
“The parade supporters gathered across from the chapel, chanting: ‘UDA’. This went on all evening, showing everyone what this parade is really about, and it remains totally unacceptable,” said Sinn Fein representative Philip McGuigan.
Mr McGuigan said Sinn Fein would present evidence to the Parades Commission of the rule breaking.
Tension has been high in the Ballymena area since the murder of Michael McIlveen.
Friends of the 15-year-old have been warned by the PSNI police that their lives are under threat. There have also been a series of other attacks on Catholics in the area.
Mr McGuigan said: “The bigger picture is obviously that these parades have a long way to go to show nationalists and republicans in the north end of Ballymena that they aren’t sectarian, coat-trailing exercises.”
He urged the Parades Commission’s to go further to “defend the rights and entitlements of nationalists living in the north end of Ballymena”.
A police spokesman said: “Police are aware of a number of breaches of the Parades Commission’s determination and these will be the subject of further enquiries.”
The Parades Commission made no comment on the march.
PSNI INACTION IN BALLYMENA
Meanwhile, a man who believes he was the intended target of a unionist paramilitary petrol-bomb attack on a Ballymena family has given the PSNI the names of the men he believes were responsible.
The 26-year-old, who does not wish to be named, said he was threatened a number of weeks before the attack by three men with UDA connections.
The same gang has been blamed for three petrol-bomb attacks on Catholic families in the north of the town.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP have asked why no-one has been arrested now that the PSNI are in possession of these new facts.
They have also questioned how people armed with petrol bombs were able to enter residential areas - particularly the Dunclug estate where there is a visible police presence - and attack homes without being caught.
The UDA gang has carried out three sectarian petrol-bomb attacks in the town in recent weeks.
There has also been strong criticism of an apparent sectarian attack on a Protestant woman in the town.
After a petrol-bomb attack on the home of Jackie McGuire graffiti saying ‘CRF attack’ appeared in the area -- a reference to a non-existent group, the ‘Catholic Reaction Force’. Local nationalist and republican representatives have strongly condemned the attack.