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Loyalist march 'breached' ruling by parades body

(Maeve Connolly, Irish News)

Sinn Féin has claimed that a loyalist band parade in Co Antrim breached Parades Commission guidelines by displaying paramilitary paraphernalia and intimidating nationalist protesters.

Thirty-five bands, some with UDA and UVF connections, and more than 1,000 supporters marched through the predominantly nationalist village of Rasharkin on Friday night.

The commission had not imposed any restrictions on the parade – organised by the Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band – other than its code of conduct for contentious parades which includes respectful behaviour from band members and supporters.

"There should be no excessively loud drumming," the code states.

"Participants should refrain from conduct, words, music or behaviour which could reasonably be perceived as intentionally sectarian, provocative threatening, abusive, insulting or lewd."

It also prohibits displays of flags or other paraphernalia belonging to proscribed groups.

Ballymoney councillor Daithi McKay claimed by not placing restrictions on the parade the commission had given "the green light for intimidation, loyalist paramilitary displays and other inexcusable behaviour without any repercussions whatsoever".

He said loyalist tunes were played by bandsmen as they passed a group of protesters, while UVF, UDA, UFF, YCV and UYM flags were carried.

One band had a flag commemorating a UDA member killed by his own pipe bomb and another remembered a UVF man, he said.

One resident, who did not wish to be named, claimed a bandsman exposed himself after noticing her filming the parade from a window in her house.

"He saw me filming and started waving, then got out his phone and started videoing me," she said.

"Another fella beside him started doing the same. Then he exposed himself to me."

Mr McKay claimed the DUP's support of the contentious parade was "indicative" of its attitude to loyalist paramilitaries in north Antrim.

"The DUP position of supporting this parade whilst turning a blind eye to the UDA and UVF involvement is an untenable one," he said.

No-one from the DUP was available for comment last night (Sunday).

The Sinn Féin councillor also said he intended making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman about "aggressive" policing and claimed to have been injured by an officer.

A police spokeswoman said anyone who was unhappy with policing should contact the ombudsman.

"Residents in the village are now in the process of collating the evidence of breaches of the commission decision and code of conduct," Mr McKay said.

"And in the absence of any meaningful dialogue over the next year, this parade clearly needs to be heavily restricted."

Nationalist residents had applied to hold a counter protest of 200 people, but the commission restricted numbers to 100.

Residents are angry that parade organisers will not meet them to discuss their concerns.

Last year they also submitted a dossier of alleged breaches of the code of conduct to the commission.

August 22, 2006

This article appeared first in the August 21, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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