Marchers in one of Northern Ireland’s most controversial parades have had restrictions placed on them after protests against the event.
Ballymaconnelly Sons of Conquerors members due to parade through Rasharkin next Friday have been ordered to only play a single drumbeat when passing a flashpoint in the north Antrim village.
The number of bands has been limited to 25 after applications in previous years for 44 to take part.
Participants have been ordered by the Parades Commission not to display paramilitary flags or emblems, and wrap up the march in two hours.
In a ruling issued yesterday by the commission, marchers were also banned from drinking alcohol before or during the parade and told not to indulge in behaviour that is “intentionally sectarian, provocative, threatening, abusive, insulting or lewd”.
The commission’s restrictions were placed on the August 18 parade after residents’ groups and nationalist politicians complained it had brought violence to the area, was a bigoted affront to their human rights, and caused excessive disruption in Rasharkin.
Members of the Rasharkin Residents’ Association and Rasharkin Residents’ Collective are both expected to turn out at the march, but have been limited to 50 protesters each and told not to drink alcohol or direct sectarian abuse at marchers.
The Ballymaconnelly band claimed its march has been “savaged by the quango that is the Parades Commission”.
It added: “In spite of this determination, the band will parade with dignity and decorum, as will those we have invited to parade.”
North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Phillip McGuigan said he met with the Parades Commission to warn it the march had been “beset by tensions” because of the offensive behaviour of loyalist band members.
He added: “It is important the Parades Commission upholds the rights of local residents through making a rights-based decision with regard to the size of the parade, the route of the parade and the timing of the parade.”
DUP councillor Sam Cole said any tensions around the parade were being created by nationalist residents.
He added: “I was at the parade last year and the march was peaceful. What I saw was provocation to the bandsmen from residents and protesters making offensive gestures and remarks.
“Thankfully the decent bandsmen did not retaliate and that was an exercise in discipline.”
The Parades Commission said that, while tensions have eased in recent years, the impact remains adverse.
“There are high risks of public disorder, community tensions are heightened and there is a restriction on the freedom of movement of residents for a number of hours,” it said. “These conditions are necessary and fair in all the circumstances for this parade and related protests.”