MLA brands Sash jail term 'draconian'

Published Wednesday, 04 December 2013
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A DUP MLA has branded the three-month jail term handed down to a Co Down drummer who played the Sash outside a Catholic church during the Ulster Covenant centenary parade "draconian".

MLA brands Sash jail term 'draconian'
Signs warned that restrictions applied in certain areas during the parade. (© Pacemaker)

Thomas Beresford, 21 and from Strathearn Court in Holywood, was found guilty last week of deliberately breaking a Parades Commission determination by playing the non-sacred tune.

The ruling had been made in respect of a stretch of the parade route passing St Matthew's Church on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

Beresford had told Belfast Magistrates' Court that he had failed to spot a flashing sign warning about the area where restrictions applied, as he had been playing with his head bowed.

But the judge branded those claims "inconceivable and incredible" and added that the accused had been identified in footage of his band, Holywood True Blues, "very enthusiastically playing the bass drum, gesturing to the crowd and looking straight ahead of him".

After he was handed a three-month jail term, the DUP's Nelson McCausland said it was an "extremely grave situation" for Beresford and his family.

To be sentenced to three months in prison for playing The Sash as part of a parade is an extremely draconian sentence to be handed down.

Nelson McCausland, DUP

"Whilst the rule of law should be respected and upheld, I am at a loss to understand why such a tough and disproportionate sentence should have been handed down," he said.

He added: "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."

Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile questioned why it had taken so long to for prosecutions to be brought against those who had broken parade determinations.

"The reality is that, for the last number of years, almost every single Parades Commission determination placed on processions past St Matthew's Church and the Short Strand area has been ignored, flouted and breached," he said.

"While I welcome this prosecution being successfully sought and hope that it will have a bearing on the behaviour of participants in future parades, I have no doubt that the parishioners in the Short Strand will be asking themselves why it has taken so long for anyone to act and uphold the rule of law when it comes to breaking the law and indeed their right to live free from sectarianism."

"It must be stated that all residents in this area ask from the respective marching Orders is that they treat this community with respect."

© UTV News
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19 Comments
Eamo in Belfast wrote (131 days ago):
Mr McCausland do you mean urinating in public or rioting over a flag? I agree that there are more important things the PSNI could be doing but this is a start.
just in pondering wrote (132 days ago):
I am no supporter of the PC, it is dictatorial in its nature,but I wonder when nationalist republican protesters will be treated with equal contempt by the PC and be arrested for breaching the PC's determination by having a greater numbers of protesters than stipulated.Or will the PC the police and the courts continue to harass one community,and in doing so justifying that communities feelings of persecution?Maybe it's time to get back to common law and get rid of the PC and remove politics from the court room.
martin in Belfast wrote (132 days ago):
The DUP using the word draconian to discribe something!! The irony!
lost the plot in down wrote (133 days ago):
Playing the sash while parading past an empty chapel can hardly be construed as a crime worthy of jail. Who exactly did this henous crime impact, were there people worshiping in the chapel. If there had of been a service then certainly repect is called for but can any one explain what harm was done.
Ryan in An Dun wrote (133 days ago):
The parades commission make these ruling for a reason. It's a simple act of respect for others in the community. Glad he got jailed. Make an example of him and don't be constantly rewarding loyalists for these actions that they see as fine.
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