Tension is building around an Orange parade in Dungiven, with fears there could be a protest in the town.
The concern comes after the Parades Commission decided not to place conditions on the contentious Dungiven Faith & Crown Defenders LOL 2036 parade on June 12.
The Commission said it decided “the imposition of conditions upon this parade at this time are not appropriate”.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McGlinchey and his colleague, former MLA Cathal O’hOisin, met with the Commission on Wednesday to express concern on behalf of a local residents’ group about the number of participants - 80 - expected next Sunday. They have slammed the Commission’s decision.
In a statement, they said: “This is a dereliction of duty on behalf of the Parades Commission, and they were made well aware of the situation here locally. There was a brokered agreement last year in terms of the numbers being restricted to a maximum of 75, and the nature and manner of the parade and how it would proceed. This application is a breach of that agreement and we certainly will not be facilitating any further discussion around the matter.
“The concern here is not just the numbers involved, but many of those who take part in the parade in Dungiven do not belong to either of the two churches here, or indeed the local lodge and travel considerable distances to participate in this parade, and that includes a number of elected unionist representatives. At this late stage we would urge that sense may be seen and ask, yet again, for the Order to engage with local people and representatives to address this issue.”
When asked for his reaction to local concerns, Dungiven lodge member, Willie Ross, said: “There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about. There is no change in the numbers. They vary from year to year, depending on who can come, and we don’t see any difference from this year to any other year. I’m in Dungiven every day, and no one has said a word to me about it. I think it’s a nonsense and I don’t see any reason for concern.”
Talks about the parade were held recently, with involvement from Colr. McGlinchey and contact made with former Assembly speaker, Lord Hay.
Dungiven Residents’ Group said last year there was an understanding that there would be no more changes to the annual parade and the residents took a decision not to protest. A spokesperson said: “As the Orange Order intends to increase their numbers this year, it appears that the fears of these residents have become a reality. These ongoing changes cannot go unchallenged.
“The Dungiven Residents’ Group are not trying to inhibit the right of the Orange Order to celebrate their culture, but they do believe that the Orange Order are not respecting the rights of the residents of Dungiven by the refusal of the Order to enter into dialogue over this disputed parade.”
The Residents’ Group asked the Parades Commission to “look unfavourably at any future application for this parade if it exceeds the number that they have applied for this year (which is 80) and, if the style or format of the parade was to be changed in any way without the prior agreement of the residents of Dungiven”.
“We wish to make it clear that we do not want to deny anybody’s cultural rights, but with those rights comes responsibilities and in this case that includes speaking to the residents of Dungiven,” added the spokesperson.
The Parades Commission said in reaching a decision, it had “reflected fully upon the potential for the proposed parade to raise community tensions, and to undermine improving community relations in the Dungiven area”. It urged “all parties to actively pursue a local resolution both for the proposed parade and any future parades in Dungiven”.