THERE is growing anger over a Parades Commission ruling to
restrict a long-running annual band competition in Rasharkin to just one street.

The event, to be hosted by the Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band next Friday, faced protests in the last two years.

Amid heavy security last year, bottles, golf balls and other items were thrown at the bands as they passed.

Yesterday the Parades Commission ruled that the event, which is in its 30th year, can only proceed to the junction of Main Street and Bridge Street.

The bands in previous years had paraded up Main Street, Bridge Street and Moneyleck Road before returning along Main Street and Church Road on the return route.

Rasharkin Residents Association originally applied for a protest with some 500 participants but the Parades Commission have ruled they are allowed 150. Last year the protest was allowed up to 130 including marshals.

DUP assembly member Mervyn Storey said the violence from the protesters at the parade last year was �severe�.

�This decision is an absolute scandal, the Parades Commission now seems to be in the business of rewarding violent behaviour.

�Last year we witnessed serious violence yet the Parades Commission
seems to think that that behaviour rather than be punished, should be
rewarded.

�Protestors last year also breached the numbers they were allowed with
300. The Parades Commission should resign en masse and hang their heads in shame.�

Mr Storey said the band can appeal the decision but said what happens
next to up to them and only they can make that decision.

Ballymoney councillor John Finlay said: �The Parades Commission have
effectively killed this annual band parade and refused to uphold the
rights of law-abiding citizens who want to enjoy the enrichment oftheir culture.�

The Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band last night declined to comment on the determination.

However, a spokesman for the band said they may issue a statement later today.

It is understood that attempts had been made behind the scenes to reach agreement between the parade organisers and residents.

A figure close to the process, who did not wish to be named, said he was �devastated� by the ruling.

PUP spokesman for the area, Ken Wilkinson said: �The decision by the
Parades Commission is deplorable. This is a band who really goes out of its way to marshall the parade.�

Mr Wilkinson added that when he was talking to fellow loyalists last night about the decision, �they were all very very annoyed because it seems the restrictions imposed every time is on loyalism�.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay has said that the restrictions
which the Parades Commission have placed on the Ballymaconnelly parade will be �welcomed by people living in Rasharkin�.

�Everybody in this community needs to now work together to reduce tensions in the week ahead and I would appeal to the organisers of the parade not to allow bands linked to the UVF and UDA to march through the village as they have applied to do,� he said.

A spokesman for the Rasharkin Residents Association said they intend
to organise �a peaceful and dignified protest� during the parade adding that in the wake of the Parades Commission decision that �only local residents are involved in the protest�.

Tensions have been high in the north Antrim village with the Orange hall
repeatedly vandalised over the last two years and a number of Protestant residents attacked and intimidated.

Published date on the 13th of August 2010
Article taken from the The News Letter

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