Mr Bruton was asked on BBC1's Nine O'Clock News if he placed responsibility for the rioting and intimidation visited on many Catholic families in Ulster over the past 48 hours directly on the shoulders of the British Government. He replied: "I do."
Earlier in the day, according to sources, Mr Bruton had engaged in a "difficult and frank" telephone conversation with John Major. Last night he added: "I believe that once a government makes a decision in a democracy under the rule of law that it is going to hold a particular line, it must hold that line. It's very difficult to make the case that governments will adhere strongly to their positions if, under this sort of pressure, the British Government and the RUC yielded."
Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, reacted angrily to Mr Bruton's comments, describing them as "unhelpful", "intemperate" and "offensive" in interviews with broadcasters. "Advice is always welcomed, but denunciation in these rather intemperate terms, particularly after there has been contact between the two Prime Ministers, is really in my respectful opinion highly unhelpful."
The exchange underlined a day of anger after tens of thousands of Orangemen took to the streets on the biggest day of the parading calendar. The parades, to 19 main points across Northern Ireland, took place largely without serious incident, following a night of severe disturbances.
A number of areas remained very tense and last night trouble flared again as petrol bombs were thrown at police and plastic bullets were fired in retaliation. There was also much bitterness and political uncertainty in the wake of the RUC's handling of the marches.
The RUC said yesterday that more than 1,300 plastic bullets had been fired on Thursday night in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. This figure may be the highest ever in the United Kingdom for a single night and relates mainly to clashes in republican areas.
Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein said the force had "fired more plastic bullets against nationalists in one night than they did during the four days of Orangemen protesting at Drumcree". The party's president, Gerry Adams, declared "the peace process lies in absolute tatters" and said responsibility for reviving it lay squarely with Mr Major. The Prime Minister said it was "absurd to suggest that the peace process is in ruins unless there are those who wish to ruin it".
The fact that three RUC officers were slightly injured by gunfire in separate incidents in north Belfast has led to worries that the IRA may be returning to terrorist violence in Northern Ireland.
The political aftermath of the week's events centred on nationalist criticism of the authorities. The SDLP leader, John Hume, said the events in Portadown, Co Armagh, when the RUC had escorted an Orange march through a Catholic district, had led to more anger than he had ever seen before in the nationalist community. This followed astatement by the normally reserved Cardinal Cahal Daly, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, that he felt personally betrayed by the British Government and that Orangemen had flouted the rule of law and had been rewarded for their behaviour.
The marching controversies have clearly led to a crisis of nationalist confidence in the RUC, which stands accused of being either unable or unwilling to deal with the loyalist protests. The RUC's Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, was, however, defended by Mr Major, who said: "If the Chief Constable had not acted as he did, lives would have been lost - I wonder what Sinn Fein would have said then."
Future not Orange, page 3
The beat goes on, page 8
It is not easy for a government by a single act to abdicate its own moral authority, undermine confidence in the police, insult church leaders of four principal faiths, and boost the acceptability of a terrorist organisation.
But last Thursday, a British government managed at one fell swoop to do all four. Just what the consequences of this may be it is impossible to tell. But when a government abandons the rule of law in favour of the rule of the mob, one must be very fearful of the long- term consequences.
- Dr Garret FitzGerald, former Irish prime minister and architect of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, page 17Reuse content