A CONTESTED parade passed off peacefully amid a heavy police presence in the Co Antrim village of Rasharkin on Friday night.
Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band had applied to have some 40 bands at the annual event but had been restricted to 25 by the Parades Commission – despite a legal challenge yesterday.
Dozens of police Land Rovers rolled into the predominantly nationalist village yesterday evening and some 100 officers policed the scene while the two-hour parade took place, but there was no trouble.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the entire parade had been “very dignified”.
He added: “This parade has been going on for around 30 years and you can’t put a limit on freedom of assembly as the Parades Commission has done.”
Despite a suggestion by him earlier in the week that more people than ever before should attend, sources said there was no indication of a swell in numbers.
Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said it had “passed off peacefully”. Asked about UUP claims that the minority Protestant community is being intimidated out of the village, he said: “There are clearly difficulties. I condemn attacks on both Protestant and Catholic homes.”
Earlier on Friday, a high court judge upheld the Parades Commission decision to limit the number of bands.
A lawyer for the Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors Flute Band argued that the restrictions were a punishment by the commission for their “mistaken” belief that parade organisers had failed to engage in mediation with local residents.
Steven McQuitty said there had been a series of initiatives by independent mediators, the Church of Ireland, the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers, the NIO and the PSNI. But he said organisers had only been unwilling to engage with a Parades Commission mediation process because they were the body who took decisions about marches. Mr McQuitty said that it was the residents who pulled out of one of the proposed rounds of dialogue.
He said the commission’s ruling was irrational, unreasonable, unfair and discriminated against one side.
A lawyer for the Parades Commission, Joe Kennedy, denied that the ruling had been a punitive one and he rejected claims that the commission had breached their own regulations. He said the restriction on the number of bands had been imposed to reduce community tensions in Rasharkin and to minimise disruption to life in the village.
The judge, Mr Justice Weatherup, told the opposing lawyers his only concern was if the Parades Commission were entitled to impose the restrictions, not if it was the right thing to do.
Democratic Unionist politicians Ian Paisley Jnr and Mervyn Storey were in the High Court in Belfast for the hearing, along with parade organisers. The chairman of the Parades Commission, Peter Osborne, was also present.
After considering the issues for 40 minutes, the judge returned to say he believed the restrictions were within the scope of the commission’s powers and that he didn’t believe the body had breached their own guidelines.