The jailing of a loyalist bandsman for playing The Sash outside a Catholic church has been branded “draconian” by a leading DUP member.
Nelson McCausland was responding to the three-month sentence handed down to Thomas Beresford, 21, on Tuesday for breaching a Parades Commission determination last September.
In its ruling, the commission allowed only hymns to be played as the Ulster Covenant centenary parade passed St Matthew’s Catholic Church on Belfast’s Newtownards Road.
The North Belfast MLA said that “whilst the rule of law should be respected and upheld”, he was “at a loss to understand why such a tough and disproportionate sentence” was imposed.
“The day of the Ulster Covenant centenary parade passed virtually without incident and was an enjoyable day for all involved. It is regrettable that at a time when much more serious alleged offences are not being brought before a judge that someone should be jailed for playing a traditional tune,” Mr McCausland added.
Bass drummer Beresford, of Strathearn Court in Holywood, along with Stephen Walker, 28, of Church Green, Holywood, was captured on film breaching the determination – despite flashing signs along the parade route warning bands of the music restriction.
Convicting the pair last month, District Judge Amanda Henderson said it was “inconceivable and incredible” that the pair of Holywood True Blues bandsmen did not notice the signs.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the court determined the breach was so serious “that only such a sentence can be justified for the offence”. Beresford has appealed the sentence and been released on bail.
Walker was also given a three-months sentence but this was suspended for one year and six months.
A third man who appeared in court in relation to the same parade denies the charge of playing “non sacred music” between the junction of Middlepath Street and Susan Street. His case will be heard as a contested matter on January 27.
The Orange Order has declined to comment on the case.
Only one other person has received a custodial sentence for breaching a Parades Commission determination, but it was overturned on appeal.