Rasharkin parade restriction upheld
A judge has upheld a Parades Commission decision to limit the number of bands that can take part in a contentious parade through the mainly nationalist village of Rasharkin.
Friday, 17 August 2012
A review was carried out by a High Court judge on Friday after parade organisers challenged the commission's decision that 25 bands could parade in the Co Antrim village.
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.
Mr Steven McQuitty said organisers had supported initiatives by independent mediators and were only 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, Mr 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.
After considering the case for 40 minutes, the judge returned to say he believed the restrictions were within the scope of the Commission's powers and he said he didn't believe the body had breached their own guidelines.
The Court's judgement recognised that the Commission had the right to set such conditions as it deemed necessary and that it was legitimate to take into account the lack of engagement between parade organisers and the local community.
The Parades Commission said in a statement they were pleased the court "upheld the process and factors we used to reach a fair and balanced decision."
"We hope that those participating and attending the event will abide by the determination and will reflect upon the need for a sustainable solution achieved through meaningful dialogue."
DUP representatives Ian Paisley Jnr and Mervyn Storey were in the High Court in Belfast for the case along with parade organisers and the chairman of the Parades Commission Peter Osborne was also present.
Mr Paisley said the rights of the band parade organisers had not been upheld but that he was hoping for a peaceful parade in Rasharkin on Friday evening.
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay also welcomed the judge's ruling.
"The attempt to overturn the Parades Commission determination on this parade would have resulted in a huge procession taking place in the village this evening with 44 bands," Mr McKay said.
"The original decision by the Commission to limit the number of bands to 25 is a step in the right direction and came after another year when the band refused to engage with local residents in Rasharkin.
"Residents here want this evening to pass off peacefully and to see the Ballymaconnolly band take meaningful steps to enter into engagement with residents rather than have this situation develop year after year."