The Parades Commission has broken new ground in restricting band parades by imposing a single drum beat for the first time when passing nationalist protestors, it has been claimed.
Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band wanted to lead 44 bands through Rasharkin village next Friday.
However, the Parades Commission has ruled that only 25 bands can take part, and that only a single drum beat can be played as the participants pass protestors between Orangefield Park and a point in Main Street.
The groups protesting are the Rasharkin Residents’ Collective and the Rasharkin Residents’ Association.
The parade has been taking place for 30 years but in recent times most Protestants have left the village, with their representatives blaming intimidation.
TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “In the past bands have sometimes been restricted from playing music when passing places of worship.
“But this is the first time I have ever heard of this restriction being used to protect the sensitivities of protestors, who put themselves in the way of being offended. This is quite novel.
“In the past protestors have used airhorns and so on. But this year we now face the possibility of the bands being restricted to a single drum beat while passing protestors who drown them out completely with airhorns.”
DUP MP Ian Paisley told the Ballymoney Times: “After the most peaceful July marching period in recent memory, this was the first opportunity for the commission to demonstrate compromise, but they’ve chosen to do the complete opposite.
“The fact is that these new restrictions mean the bands are only allowed to play a single drumbeat whilst passing the protestors. If these people are so offended then why on earth are they going out of their way to stand on the side of the road?”
There are no specific restrictions on protestors regarding noise. However, they are required to have “due regard” for the parade and not to engage in provocative or abusive behaviour.
A Parades Commission spokesperson said: “The commission has in the past year taken steps to facilitate dialogue in order to move towards resolution. The commission notes that the band engaged with the commission appointed mediators but did not enter into direct dialogue with the local community and that limited progress has been made in terms of reaching local agreement.
“The commission believes that the conditions in the determination are necessary and in the absence of an agreed outcome, represent the best way in which the purpose of the band parade can be facilitated.”
North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said the Parades Commission needs to do more to encourage organisers of the Rasharkin parade to engage with residents in the mainly nationalist village.
“This parade has brought a lot of problems and difficulties to Rasharkin over the years and it is well past time all parties came round the table to resolve these issues once and for all,” he said.