Ballymena Bands Forum has expressed ‘frustration and deep disappointment’ at what they have termed a ‘new approach’ to policing parades in the town.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Forum said that until the weekend, Ballymena would have been regarded as a ‘model of good practice’ for parades.
But a ‘last minute’ change in the PSNI command structure has left the Forum angered.
The forum’s statement reads: “For a number of years the local Bands Forum has worked closely with the PSNI in the weeks leading up to a parade to ensure minimal police resources were needed on the ground. As usual, a few weeks ago, the Forum met with police officers to discuss at length the forthcoming parades. This year’s meeting left the local bands reassured that although a change of Inspector happened in 2015 there would be no changes to the policing approach that has been agreed and had been working successfully for many years.
“However at the eleventh hour the parade organisers were informed that the officer who had taken over would not be in charge and another unknown officer would be on the ground instead. This left organisers bewildered as the most important thing has always been to have a good working relationship with the officer in command. The Bands Forum felt they had started to build this with the first new officer so were frustrated at the late change.
“Unfortunately on Saturday night at the annual Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster parade the policing orders appeared to totally disregard years of agreements. The deployment of an arrest van accompanied by several officers at the starting point in Wakehurst set a very unsavoury tone from the off. A car deployed at Linenhall Street with its blue lights flashing for the duration of the parade would have left someone travelling through Ballymena thinking there was some sort of problem associated with the parade.
“One issue the local bands have always been proud of is the zero tolerance of on-street drinking at parades in Ballymena and the parades in the town have a reputation across Northern Ireland of being alcohol free. However a group of anti-socials gathered in an area to openly consume alcohol, smashing glasses and being generally unwelcome towards the families who had gathered to enjoy the parade.
“When this was pointed out to police officers they took no action resulting in this activity continuing throughout the parade. The Bands Forum would question why this was not nipped in the bud especially when there seemed to be an increased number of officers deployed around the streets of the parade.”
Forum Chairman Rodney Quigley concluded: “The last-minute decision by the District Commander to put an unknown in charge of a parade in Ballymena was never going to be ideal, and I feel the way the policing was handled on the night has set back policing at parades ten years.”
The Ballymena & Antrim Times has requested a response from the PSNI on the issues raised in the statement.