Northern Ireland news

No nationalist protest to be held at Rasharkin parade

There will be no nationalist protest when the annual Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors band parade takes place in Rasharkin in Co Antrim tonight.
Connla Young

NATIONALISTS have called off a long-running protest at a Co Antrim parading flashpoint.

The Parades Commission last night confirmed that there are “no notified protests” for the annual Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors band parade in Rasharkin tonight.

It is believed to be the first time there has been no protest at the parade in more than a decade.

In previous years two residents groups have staged separate protests.

One of the groups, Rasharkin Residents' Association, shelved its demonstration last year.

A second group, Rasharkin Residents' Collective, has since dissolved and will not be holding a protest. A new group, Rasharkin Community Forum, has been set up in the area over the past 12 months and includes some people formerly involved with the collective.

Tonight's parade is expected to include up to 25 bands with an unknown number of participants and supporters.

In a recent ruling the Parades Commission said that the contentious parade can go ahead with restrictions.

This includes a start time of 7.30pm and a requirement to disperse no later than 9pm.

The parade will not be allowed to return through any part of the village on its return journey.

RCF chair Sean Hanna said that the commission has refused to meet with residents, although officials have met with forum representatives.

He also claimed a request for parade to be cleared of Main Street by 8pm to allow care workers to enter the village has been ignored.

He said the failure breaches Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with degrading treatment, among other things.

Mr Hanna said he intends to lodge a complaint with the commission alleging that it has failed to comply with its Section 75 equality screening obligations.

According to the Equality Commission “section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act aims to change the practices of government and public authorities so that equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy making and service delivery”.

The community worker said the forum will monitor the police operation linked to the parade, which in previous years has been significant.

He added that a return of the protest next year has not been ruled out.

“We believe the people of Rasharkin will receive the same harassment and that the protest will be necessary next year,” he said.

“We thought we were long gone but it looks as if we are going to have to return.”

He also warned that “growing discontent” in nationalist communities across the north could result in the return of an umbrella group, Communities Against Sectarian Parades (CASP), which folded in 2015.

He added that a mediation process linked to the ongoing parade in Rasharkin “has failed”.

A spokesman for the Parades Commission said a “representation” had been received that the parade be “fully through” the village by 8pm.

“The commission considered this representation within the context of its full considerations regarding the parade,” it said.

“The commission has advised the Rasharkin residents' forum that any complaint should be made in writing to the commission.”

The spokesman added that “no written complaint has been received”.

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