8 June 2006 Edition
DUP and sectarianism in Ballymena
BY LAURA FRIEL
Following the brutal sectarian killing of teenager Michael McIlveen in Ballymena last month, the DUP came under media pressure to challenge sectarian attitudes among their supporters. But events this week suggest that the DUP is a major part of the problem.
Ballymena Sinn Féin Councillor Monica Digney criticised DUP participation in a loyalist band parade that took place in Ballymena at the weekend, while in the council chambers unionist councillors refused to debate the call for civic action to combat sectarianism.
Sectarian abuse, unionist paramilitary flags and triumphalist displays outside a Catholic chapel accompanied an Orange parade in Ballymena at the weekend. An official DUP band marched alongside bands carrying UVF paraphernalia past onlookers chanting support for the UDA.
A large number of loyalists gathered outside All Saints Catholic church as members of the Parades Commission and other observers monitored the parade. A number of bands including the South Down DUP flute band stopped outside the church to beat drums loudly and play sectarian tunes.
Requests for the parade to be re-routed had been ignored with the Parades Commission deciding to place no restrictions following reassurances by the Pride of the Maine organisers that the parade would be respectful, dignified and "keenly aware of the sensitivities in Ballymena".
Around 45 loyalist bands participated in the parade, which passed a nationalist area and was routed close to where a sectarian gang beat Michael McIlveen to death less than a month ago.
Monica Digney described the sectarian scenes and triumphalist displays that accompanied Saturday's parade in Ballymena as "utterly disgraceful".
"Drunken loyalists were allowed within yards of nationalist residents who were subjected to sectarian abuse. The PSNI didn't lift a finger when loyalists, some of whom were clearly underage, stood close to us while openly drinking on the streets," said Digney.
"Nationalists have gathered a catalogue of visual and written evidence which will be forwarded onto the Parades Commission and Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan. The PSNI deliberately allowed loyalists to stand within feet of nationalist residents and shout sectarian abuse and intimidate them. Young Catholics were particularly traumatised by the threatening behaviour," said Monica.
DUP support for the Pride of the Maine parade is totally untenable, said the Ballymena Councillor. She pointed out that one of the worst offenders had been the DUP's own band from South Down. Digney dismissed as "a complete lie" the DUP claim that UVF flags and emblems carried by bands referred only to the UVF of 1912.
"It is clearly a paramilitary display. One of the bands, the Freeman Memorial Band is named after a UVF paramilitary who blew himself up in Coleraine in the 1970s," said Digney.
"If the DUP are serious about combating sectarianism in this town then the first thing they must do is condemn this sectarian parade and all the loyalist paramilitaries involved in it," said Digney.
Meanwhile intimidation was the name of the game during a meeting of Ballymena council on Monday evening. Nationalist councillors and members of the public walked out after unionists refused to debate a proposal to set up a special committee to combat sectarianism in the town.
Inside the council chambers unionists heckled Monica Digney as she attempted to propose the motion, the DUP councillors "played the drums" by banging their fingers on the table to further disrupt the proceedings while outside around 30 loyalists gathered in a mob.
"People who came to watch the council meeting were astounded at the behaviour of unionist councillors," said Digney.
"For them then to be faced with walking through a loyalist mob made it even worse. It is clear when it comes to sectarianism Ballymena council remains part of the problem," said Digney.
"On Monday night the DUP were given the opportunity to become part of the solution and what did they do? They pretended to beat the drums on the table," the Sinn Féin councillor said.
Meanwhile another controversial loyalist band parade held in West Belfast at the weekend indulged in sectarian hostility against nearby nationalist residents.
Hundreds of loyalists were bussed into the tiny Suffolk Estate for a march that was initiated as a one-off parade four years ago but has emerged as a "traditional" march. Local Sinn Féin councillor Gerard O Neill criticised the drunken and abusive behaviour of some of the bandsmen and their supporters.