Mayhew and marchers to meet

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The Independent Online
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, is to hold talks with the Protestant group planning the march in Londonderry next month that security forces fear could be Ulster's next flashpoint. Sir Patrick is to meet the Apprentice Boys later this week about the route of their march, planned for 10 August, which in the past sparked violent disorder.

British and Irish governments are at loggerheads over plans to control sectarian marches in the province, and Sir Patrick is also under renewed pressure from Labour, which yesterday threatened to set up its own commission into the marches if ministers fail to do so

Tensions over the issues arose at last Thursday's meeting of British and Irish ministers in London after Sir Patrick had earlier promised a "general review that will make recommendations about better management of future controversial parades".

Both governments view the Apprentice Boys' march as a potential disaster. It was the same march in 1969 that led directly to the introduction of British troops. The parade also coincides with the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in 1971.

Yesterday the Shadow Northern Ireland spokeswoman, Marjorie Mowlam, raised the stakes by saying: "If by the autumn the Government has not gone ahead with this, we will see whether we can go ahead alone."

It is the Londonderry march which both governments fear could be the flashpoint, and they are hoping that negotiations between the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, and local communities will stave off the threat of violence of the sort seen in Portadown by routing the march away from the city walls.

At the Anglo-Irish conference in London last week, Sir Patrick and Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring discussed possible routes for the Apprentice Boys to avoid conflict. The march usually attracts 12,000 loyalists for what they view as one of the most important dates in their history - 1688, when 13 apprentices slammed the gates on the army of the Catholic King James II.

Only after the 1994 IRA ceasefire did the march return to its traditional route along the city walls. But even during the ceasefire, nationalists condemned the RUC, and said that by allowing loyalists to go around the city walls they had ignored Catholic sensitivities.

Dublin is hoping a independent body could be set up to make recommendations regarding specific parades. British officials envisage an advisory body which will review guidelines and procedures.

Ms Mowlam has already called for a commission which gives guidelines about a code of conduct on marches, which looks at judgements in relation to routes and reviews the existing Public Order Act.

n Armed police surrounded Belmarsh Magistrates Court in south-east London yesterday as eight men appeared on terrorist charges. The eight - three from Belfast, four from the Irish Republic and one from Birmingham - were remanded in custody until 26 July charged with conspiracy to cause explosions.