Deal gives march the go-ahead

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The Independent Online
CATHOLICS AND Protestants yesterday reached a potentially ground- breaking agreement over one of the more contentious events in Northern Ireland's marching season.

While some members of the Orange Order remain encamped at Drumcree still demanding to walk through the Catholic area, an arrangement was reached yesterday to allow up to 15,000 Apprentice Boys to march through Londonderry.

The agreement, which came after lengthy negotiations between the Apprentice Boys and the members of the nationalist Bogside Residents Association, will allow just 13 marchers to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in the city centre. One band will accompany the other marchers along the city walls.

The march around the walls, commemorating the lifting of the siege of Derry in 1689, has been a flashpoint for confrontation, particularly where the march passes above the Catholic Bogside area. After Drumcree and the killing of three young Catholic brothers, there was concern about further confrontation and both sides yesterday recognised the importance of their agreement.

Alastair Simpson, Governor of the Apprentice Boys, said: "A small but significant step has been taken for the better future of the city and for all our communities this weekend.

"The Apprentice Boys have made every effort to make their parades peaceful days and the understanding reached maintains the dignity of the events."

A spokesman for the Apprentice Boys added later: "I think it is very positive that we have been able to reach an agreement and I think that this could be a model for dealing with future disputes elsewhere."

Donncha MacNiallis, spokesman for the Bogside Residents Association, said that had the same commitment to reach agreement been shown at Drumcree, tragedy may have been avoided.

"The accommodation reached today shows what can result when the will to reach agreement exists," he said.

"This achievement should spur those involved to follow the natural progression of this process to enter direct discussions to reach a comprehensive and lasting agreement."

Had an agreement not been reached the Parades Commission would have been forced rule on the march.

n The dissident Republican group calling itself the "real IRA" yesterday claimed responsibility for Saturday's bomb attack in Banbridge, Co Down, which left 35 people injured and caused millions of pounds worth of damage. They also said they carried out a wave of incendiary bomb attacks in Belfast this weekend.