Mediators help find Rasharkin parade solution

Rasharkin Residents' Collective spokesman Sean Hanna
Rasharkin Residents' Collective spokesman Sean Hanna

Independent mediators have been called in to try and find a solution to a parade dispute in Co Antrim.

The talks team was brought in to try and end years of parading deadlock in Rasharkin.

The Parades Commission last night confirmed it is supporting the initiative.

Nationalist residents are opposed to a series of loyal order and loyalist parades which take place in the country village.

Earlier this year residents in the village said they intend to hold "festival style parades" to coincide with loyalist marches through the village this summer.

Rasharkin Residents’ Collective spokesman Sean Hanna last night said the group wants to see an end to the regular protests and called for bandsmen and loyalists to show "respect" for the host community.

He also said that residents called off a protest in the village on July 12 as part of a process to secure meetings with key stakeholders including the Parades Commission, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council and the Housing Executive.

"If there is progress made at these meetings we will allow time for the public bodies to implement these changes and will continue to withdraw protests," Mr Hanna said.

"However, if progress is not made we will be instructing our legal teams to take action against the public bodies for failure to meet their statutory obligations and at the same time we will go ahead with our festival style parades."

Mr Hanna said his group viewed meetings with statutory bodies as "more important than meetings with Orangemen" because they already meet at a local good relations forum.

He added that statutory bodies have a responsibility to find a solution to the impasse.

"Given the threat to damage to property, the right to life and the right to live free from sectarian harassment we can’t see how the public bodies up to this point have lived up to their statutory requirements," he said.

He also drew a distinction between loyal order parades and an annual loyalist parade organised by Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors in the village each year.

Tensions in the village have been high during the annual parade in previous years.

"We have a problem with the nature of the Ballymaconnelly parade because of the loyalist bands and the association of people in that parade with the murder of innocent people in the village," he said.

Mr Hanna said his group would like to be in a position to follow the lead of Belfast based Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ Group which ended a three-year protest earlier this month after the Parades Commission ordered loyalist bands not to play music while passing St Patrick’s Church.

A spokesman for the Parades Commission said: "Mediation takes many forms - encouraging and enabling communication within and between groups, assessing and framing the issues and helping parties to find solutions that are mutually agreeable.

"This year, the commission has supported a professional, independent mediator working with parties in a number of areas including Rasharkin."