THE number of loyalist bands allowed to take part in a contentious loyal order parade has been restricted for the first time by the Parades Commission.
The annual parade through Rasharkin, which normally attracts around 40 bands to the predominantly nationalist Co Antrim village, has seen large protests from residents in previous years amid fears it could spark violence. The Commission has now announced that only 25 bands out of the 44 invited to Fridays parade can take part. Two nationalist residents groups – Rasharkin Residents Association and Rasharkin Residents Collective – will hold separate protests against the parade on Friday evening. The commission criticised the parade’s organiser, Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band, for its ” unacceptable ” refusal to take part in talks. But it said Rasharkin Residents Association had been willing to engage in dialogue.
The Commission restricted the parade route in line with previous years but also insisted that all flags ; bar the Union flag, Ulster banner, Scottish and St Patrick saltires 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. North Antrim Sinn Fein 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 Ballymaconnelly band agrees to talk to residents. ” The Residents Association has 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,” he said. ” That is a reasonable position. Rather than cause further division the band needs to now sit down and talk.”
WITH MANY THANKS TO : CLAIRE SIMPSON,IRISH NEWS.