Band at centre of parade controversy

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A MID Ulster MLA has met with the Parades Commission to outline his concerns over a Republican band which participated in Cookstown’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations last week.

DUP MLA Ian McCrea accused the Sons of Ireland Republican Flute Band of attempting to inflame tensions in the area and said they have damaged community relations in Cookstown.

He also raised concerns in relation to the Parades Commission’s approach to dealing with bands who breach rules and said he believes the Commission operate a “dual standard” when dealing with bands from different sections of the community.

Following the meeting, he said: “This meeting was an opportunity to raise a number of issues with the Commission regarding the St Patrick’s Day parade in Cookstown.

“There are questions about whether some of the feeder parades on the day were covered by proper notification, and we look forward to confirmation on this issue from the Commission.  “The main parade in Cookstown passed completely without incident except for the actions of the “Sons of Ireland” flute band from Rasharkin. This particular band were listed on the 11/1 notification for the main parade and therefore the parade organisers bear responsibility for their actions.

“However, on the return route this band were the last to parade. They waited until others had cleared and then stopped beside a group of Protestant residents and attempted to inflame tensions.

“The band were stopped for approximately 5-10 minutes and footage of the event has been posted on the internet for anyone to see. The problems caused by this band have not helped community relations in Cookstown and unfortunately have only served to increase tensions.”

However, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians - who hosted the day’s events - hit back by accusing the group of spectators who filmed the event, of “intelligence gathering.”

Ciaran McElhone, a member of the Cookstown Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said: “There was only a small minority of people who wanted to intimate people by using their cameras. But it’s intelligence gathering on the people that were taking part in the parade.”

The Chairman of Cookstown Council, John McNamee, said intimidating comments were posted under a video which was put on the internet.

He told the MID: “The events which occurred on St Patrick’s Day were disgusting and it’s something I’ll be raising with the police when I meet with them soon.

“The group of Loyalists came down and took videos of band members and people parading then posted them on Youtube and left inflammatory comments.

“I was referred to as an IRA terrorist - they are intimating me and my family. Images of band members’ faces were posted online and threatening and intimidating language was posted.

“These people on the Unionist side have no respect for the Irish culture by calling them an IRA band.”

The video taken on Thursday past of the parade was uploaded onto the website YouTube.

As the band passed spectators, abuse was exchanged from each side.

A line of police separated the group of spectators and the band from Rasharkin. A group of around 50 supporters followed the band and joined the chorus of abuse to which one person responded: “That’s a disgrace - it should be policed properly.”

In the day following the upload of the video, up to 40 comments were left before being removed with a line added stating: “Ability to leave comments is deactivated due to immature users leaving sectarian remarks.”

Ulster Unionist Assembly Candidate for Mid-Ulster, Sandra Overend said she was also outraged by the events and accused the band of hijacking a cultural celebration.

Sandra said: “I have been inundated with calls from numerous people from the Cookstown area who were extremely angry and upset at the conduct of some participants in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cookstown which was orchestrated by the Republican elements under the cover of AOH and St Patrick.

“If they had wanted to celebrate the culture and Christian heritage of St Patrick they would not have been flaunting republican flags right across the town centre of Cookstown, and they would not have been parading in an offensive manner, chanting in support of terrorism and the IRA.

“Surely, in the true spirit of St. Patrick, celebrations in Cookstown should have been welcoming to all, and encouraging everyone to watch the parade and to share in the St. Patrick’s day celebrations.

“I have contacted the Parades Commission about this parade, to alert them of this offensive behaviour and to talk about any future parades requested by this organisation.

“The unionist people of Cookstown and indeed, Mid-Ulster, can be assured that this type of incident will receive my dedicated attention. “