18 July 2002 Edition

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SDLP accused of 'spinning' Ballymena trouble

Sinn Féin's Ballymoney Councillor Philip McGuigan has accused the SDLP's Declan O'Loan of "sacrificing the truth to partake in their favourite pastime at the minute - blaming Sinn Féin and republicans for everything that happens in Ballymena".

McGuigan was speaking in the wake of trouble in Ballymena that erupted last Friday 12 July as an Orange Parade passed through the Cushendall Road area of the North Antrim town.

According to McGuigan, the trouble was provoked when the RUC/PSNI pushed back nationalists who had gathered to protest against the Orange Parade, which was passing through what is a mainly nationalist part of the town.

As the loyalist parade approached, the Crown forces moved in and "using over the top force" pushed the nationalists back, he said.

A number of women were injured in the incident and according to McGuigan some of the protesters reacted to the RUC/PSNI violence. However, in his reaction to the trouble, the SDLP's Declan O'Loan accused republicans of "orchestrating" the trouble and said that outsiders were bussed into the town.

Disputing this, McGuigan said O'Loan had picked up the baton of Crown forces' propaganda and was using "information picked up from the RUC/PSNI".

"In the run up to the Twelfth, two chapels and a Catholic-owned business in Ballymena and nearby Ahoghill were attacked by loyalists to heighten tensions in the area," said McGuigan.

"On the morning of the Twelfth, a heavy Crown forces presence in the Cushendall Road area, which local people viewed as provocative, kept the area on a knife edge."

Concluding McGuigan said "the SDLP is intent on blaming republicans for everything that happens in Ballymena instead of demanding equality for the nationalists who live there".

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the DPP has dropped charges of riotous behaviour against three nationalist men from Ballymena over trouble in the town last year.

The trouble that erupted in the mainly nationalist William Street area of Ballymena last year occurred after the RUC attacked nationalists out celebrating Celtic's league championship victory.

The trouble flared, according to witnesses, in the early hours of Sunday morning 8 April, after a couple of youths taped a tricolour to a traffic bollard. The RUC sent in squads from the DMSU, who set upon the crowds.

One man, 35-year-old Paddy Dunlop, was beaten unconscious in the assault and suffered severe bruising to his body.

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