19 August 2004 Edition
Apprentice Boys were determined to march full route
Sinn Féin MLA for Mid Ulster, Geraldine Dougan, and party colleague, Magherafelt District Councillor Sean Kerr, say that last Saturday's Apprentice Boy's Parade in Maghera was prevented from marching though nationalist residential areas only by an obstruction in the road.
The PSNI and Parades Commission had praised the Apprentice Boys in the media for voluntarily rerouting, but the Sinn Féin representatives say this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
"It was clear to those present that the Apprentice Boys were determined to march the full route through nationalist residential areas, and were not interested in dialogue with the residents," they said. "The parade was diverted not by the Apprentice Boys' desire to avoid confrontation but because an obstruction on the road prevented them from marching through the nationalist part of the town. It was not a goodwill gesture or an attempt to avoid confrontation, as the PSNI and the Apprentice Boys would have us believe, but simply that they could not get through.
"Right up until the last minute we were trying to get them to see sense and to get this issue resolved, but without success. We do not understand why the Apprentice Boys want to march through the predominantly nationalist part of the town against the wishes of the residents and the local community and why they are not content in marching in the part of the town which is not contentious.
"When such efforts failed, the residents were left with little choice but to hold a peaceful protest; this came in the face of heavy provocation from the Apprentice Boys, their supporters and the PSNI, who threatened the protesters with arrest.
"We met the Parades Commission on a number of occasions regarding this march and appealed to them not to force this parade through nationalist residential areas."
Sinn Féin says last weekend's march has to be looked at in the context of previous experiences and the behaviour at previous band parades. It came only a fortnight after the town was closed off to facilitate an Orange parade on Friday 30 July. Residents were outraged on thiat occasion when marchers flaunted loyalist paramilitary emblems and flags, hurled sectarian abuse and sang sectarian songs.
"The Parades Commission's decision to force this march through and the Apprentice Boys' refusal to talk to residents only served to further heighten tensions in the town," said Dougan and Kerr.
"Our position is clear - these marches through nationalist residential areas should not be allowed to proceed against the wishes of the local community, when it is clear that those participating do not wish to enter into dialogue with local residents. It seems that the SDLP's position on parades in South Derry changes with the climate.
"The residents do not want this display of loyalist triumphalism on their doorsteps, and despite repeated representation to the parades commission, these parades are continuously forced through. The Parades Commission is seen by the nationalist community in Maghera as being a body whose primary role is to facilitate loyalist marches, and the views and concerns of nationalist residents are secondary to that of the loyalists who participate in these coat-trailing and triumphalist acts."