Pity the residents of Fisherwick Gardens in Ballymena, the only residents of the town on whom a dissident republican march is to be inflicted.
What exactly William Orr, a presbyterian United Irishman, would make of the band named in his honour, and the organisers of this parade, boggles the mind. This bizarre and gratuitously offensive event is universally deplored by every party with an elected representative on Ballymena Borough Council and is welcomed by almost no-one in the town. It will now comprise a 30 minute “march” of 100 metres by a coterie of thugs in quasi-military dress, to a single drumbeat, separated from a diametrically opposed coterie of oh so dissimilar thugs who will congregate to register their opposition through the medium of abuse and intimidation, by an expensively assembled mass of PSNI officers and Land Rovers.
All very exciting for the thugs and all very lucrative for the PSNI officers. Not quite as pleasant for those who live in the Fisherwick estate.
Every parading issue involves the universal democratic conundrum of competing rights. Theoretically a group, no matter how despicable their views or motives, should be allowed to gather and indulge in whatever dubious antics they feel necessary providing this does not impact excessively on others.
Certainly it is difficult to understand why this parade is necessary, why it is in Ballymena and why this tiny group of people can impose disruption and mayhem on those who live in the area. Ultimately with such a cross-community consensus against the event and given the disproportionate inconvenience and expense it will cause, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be banned entirely.
Clearly this logic works both ways and the incessant parading of paramilitary style loyalist bands in Ballymena town centre may not be as contentious given the demographics of the town, but needs to be looked at in the interests of all residents of Ballymena. It is an endemic problem in Northern Ireland that small, unpleasant subcultures become entwined with wider cultural and political sentiments and acquire a resonance and consequence which they do not deserve.