The Parades Commission has been accused of running “a secret court” after it ruled a band confronted by a republican councillor cannot parade this Friday in Rasharkin.
Police wrestled independent republican councillor Padraig McShane (pictured above) to the ground in Ballycastle on July 12 after he was allegedly involved in a verbal exchange with members of the Dervock Young Defenders Flute Band.
He was released on police bail pending further inquiries.
But yesterday the commission banned the band from parading on Friday, saying it had “received information and evidence about the band’s perceived provocative conduct that day”.
But Rev Mervyn Gibson, Assistant Grand Master of the Order Order, accused the commission of running “a secret court” with no right of appeal.
“This decision is typical of [commission chair] Anne Henderson’s secret court – taking evidence in secret from nobody knows who – and finding people guilty,” he said.
“The reality is that a republican was arrested - and yet the band has been punished.
“This is another example of why the Parades Commission and related legislation need to be replaced with a fair and equitable system.
“This is not right.
“The commission has absolute power – there is no right to appeal.
“There is no other public body that has so much power as the Parades Commission.
“The commission denies people the right to a fair trial - if you are accused you have no right to defend yourself. There is no transparency or natural justice.
“In fact it is a travesty of natural justice - a perfect example of power without accountability.”
But the Parades Commission insisted he was wrong and that its decisions are indeed open to review - through the courts.
A spokeswoman said: “The Commission is required to carry out its functions in line with the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 and must have regard to its statutory Guidelines. When considering a parade, the Commission is obliged to have regard to any disruption to the life of the community, the impact on relationships within the community and potential for public disorder. The Commission rejects the claim there is no accountability, its legal determinations are open to challenge through Judicial Review.”
The commission declined to say who had given evidence against the band, saying that 3.3 of its statutory rules state that all evidence supplied to it must be treated as confidential.
The News Letter asked if the commission was being consistent in its approach in light of the fact that it took no action at all against those involved in the 2013 Castlederg IRA parade, which jeered victims of terrorism in front of police, sported paramilitary uniforms and carried images of assault weapons. Victims were later disgusted that no action was taken against the parade.
But the commission defended its 2013 decision.
“The Commission must consider each proposed parade under the prevailing circumstances and on its own merits,” the spokeswoman said. “The Commission considers it has been consistent in that regard. The criteria which it must consider is the impact a parade has on the life of the community, community relations and potential for public disorder.”
Padraig McShane told the News Letter in July that he would be referring his arrest to the Police Ombudsman.
Later that month, a bus belonging to the band was set on fire and destroyed.
The Parades Commission’s determination said that the band’s conduct on July 12 had brought a “new dynamic” to its consideration of the planned Rasharkin parade.
It said that it had “received information and evidence about the band’s perceived provocative conduct that day, including wearing face masks, drunkenness, and rowdy and antagonistic behaviour”.
It added: “Other complaints were that a protestor’s conduct had been threatening and provocative.”
It ruled that the band must not take part in the upcoming annual parade.
Other restrictions include a single drumbeat to be played throughout part of the route, that it starts at 7pm sharp, and that it disperses by 9pm at the latest. There is also a total ban on any paramilitary emblems.
Whilst Sinn Fein welcomed the move, Ballymoney Ulster Unionist Party councillor Darryl Wilson said: “Yet another ludicrous decision by the Parades Commission...
“Their reasons and rationale are extremely weak. Once again the Parades Commission pander to the intolerant republican agenda.”
TUV leader Jim Allister, MLA for North Antrim, said: “I am appalled that the Parades Commission have banned Dervock Young Defenders Flute Band from taking part in the annual parade in Rasharkin this Friday night. Parade organisers had gone to considerable lengths including reducing the number of bands taking part and bringing forward the time at which the parade would end.”
He added: “It is important to remember that it was a republican councillor, Padraig McShane, who was arrested as a result of his behaviour while the band passed on the Twelfth, not members of the band...
“This is a gratuitously provocative action by a commission which seems determined to stir up controversy in an area where the tensions around a parade had decreased in recent years.”