communities see return of dark days

Stand-off was crisis waiting to happen
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Mediators have been working with both Protestant and Catholic communities since July of last year in an attempt to defuse a future flashpoint.

Brendan McAllister and Joe Campbell, joint heads of Mediation Network - an independent organisation set up in the 1980s to reduce conflict - have been at Drumcree since Monday attempting to broker the kind of compromise achieved at last year's stand-off. "The marches have been hanging over them all year. The work was done in expectation that this would be another flashpoint," a source close to the process said.

A spokesman for the network confirmed its involvement but refused to give details, describing the situation as too sensitive. "We've been talking to members of all communities, not just the leaders," the spokeswoman said.

It was expected that nationalists would meet with Orangemen in December, but according to the source, the Orangemen felt the meeting "wasn't necessary" in the light of their perceived victory last year. "We wanted to do this, even though we'd been insulted. But they refused point-blank," a nationalist source said.

In January, the network held meetings with church leaders and the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, who encouraged them to continue. But by Easter, with no compromise in sight, the source said that even Robin Eames, the Primate of All Ireland, became pessimistic of finding a way forward.

A flurry of last-minute initiatives failed to achieve any progress, with both sides of the sectarian divide blaming the other for the lack of success. And such is the pessimism now, that some believe that even the mediation network may have privately given up hope.