Blair urged to re-route Orangemen

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair is being urged to step into the parades issue in Northern Ireland, and to announce an early decision to prohibit Orangemen marching through two nationalist areas next month.

The move comes after loyalists issued a stark "no compromise" message and insisted the flashpoint Drumcree parade in Portadown must go ahead.

In response, community leaders called for the Orangemen to be barred from marching along the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown and the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast next month.

Representatives of the nationalist Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC) travelled to London yesterday to hand in a letter to the Prime Minister at Downing Street.

The letter asks the Government to make an early decision to re-route parades away from the Ormeau and Garvaghy Roads, and to "give assurances that they won't give in to the threats of the Orange Order".

Michael Goodman, a representative of the LOCC who is on a speaking tour in Britain, said: "The importance of an early decision will be that it will ease tensions and help reassure people in the Ormeau and Garvaghy Roads that they won't be curfewed or abused by the RUC again this year."

The loyalist insistence that the Drumcree parade must go ahead came last night, when the government-appointed Parades Commission was given a hostile reception at a public meeting in the town to try to resolve the crisis with the parade only three weeks away.

Around 120 loyalists packed into the town hall and there were angry scenes when a lone voice suggested compromise.

Alastair Graham, the commission chairman, said it was the "most voluble" expression of the Protestant viewpoint he had ever seen. He did not now expect a formal agreement between the two sides, but there was still hope of some sort of compromise, he said, adding: "I do believe the Chief Constable ... will work very hard to try to find some centre path that recognises the views of both communities."

Meanwhile, a compromise suggested jointly by Northern Ireland's two morning newspapers has won backing from 20,000 people, the papers announced yesterday.

The unionist News Letter and the nationalist Irish News proposed a two- year compromise deal under which the parade went ahead one year along its traditional Garvaghy Road route, and was re-routed the other year in a bid to avoid confrontation. A phoneline set up by the papers to take pledges of support for the compromise has drawn 2,000 calls an hour from as far afield as America, the News Letter reported.

Nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road have also met and rejected proposals put to them in a letter by the Orange Order. The residents said the proposals contained nothing new, and they were making plans to cover every contingency.

The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ronnie Flanagan, who will have to decide whether the Drumcree parade goes ahead or is re- routed, yesterday backed the papers' call for compromise, saying: "I salute the historic and thought-provoking initiative."

However, people should not focus on the acceptability or otherwise of the one suggested "solution" to the problem, he said.

Rather, they should focus on the one basic rule to be followed - "that whatever the outcome, violence or the threat of violence is unacceptable and must not be used".