The Northern Ireland Parades Commission have ruled that bands attending the Red Hand Defenders Flute Band (RHDFB) Parade in Downpatrick on Monday cannot lay a wreath at the town’s war memorial to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.
The RHDFB have an annual parade which is attended by forty-five other bands from across the province. This year, it happens to coincide with the anniversary of WWI’s outbreak and in recognition of that they applied to the Parades Commission to alter their route to lay a wreath, a request that was denied.
The RHDFB itself is allowed to march to the memorial, but the other bands have been denied access, meaning they will have no way to pay tribute to those who died in the Great War.
Any march by bands like the RHDFB are regulated by the Parades Commission, who rule on what routes they can take in order to avoid offending local Republican populations. They are supposed to ensure that things like the celebration of the Irish defeat at the Battle of the Boyne are not conducted in the middle of predominantly Catholic areas. But this ruling goes beyond that because it restricts access to a war memorial on a day that will be marked right across the United Kingdom.
This ruling also prevents the bands from commemorating both Catholics and Protestants in a war that inflicted appalling casualties on all sides of the political and religious divide.
Traditional Unionist Voice claimed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland “seemed happy to facilitate” the parade but the Parade Commission had different ideas.
In a statement on the TUV’s website Jim Allister: said: “Monday marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War. During World War One thousands of people, both Unionist and Nationalist, went off to fight for freedom in Europe.”
He continued: “However, the Parades Commission have decreed that none of the 45 visiting bands can proceed beyond the 30 mile per hour speed limit on the edge of the town meaning that they will parade no more than a few hundred yards. The host band, Red Hand Defenders, is the only one allowed to parade to the War Memorial and everyone must disperse no later than 8pm – two and a half hours earlier than the time requested on the 11/1.
“Even by the Parades Commission’s standards this takes oppression of Unionist culture to a ridiculous level. Given the nature of the parade it is particularly insulting.” He went on to claim the Parades Commission was trampling on the “community’s rights to freedom of assembly and cultural expression.”
Parades are a contentious subject in Northern Ireland but this is believed to be the first time a UK-wide anniversary has been banned. A total of 27,000 Irish soldiers died in World War One, around 14 percent of those who went to war.