Mowlam confronts Ulster parades issue

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The Independent Online
The pace of political activity noticeably quickened in Northern Ireland yesterday as the Government and others worked towards a new IRA ceasefire, a peaceful marching season and progress in multi-party talks.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, concentrated on the controversial parades issue, meeting leaders of two of the main Protestant marching organisations, the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry.

Ms Mowlam, who later described the contacts as useful, has already met representatives of Catholic residents' groups, many of whom object to loyalist marches through their areas. The authorities are anxious to avoid another damaging summer of marching confrontations.

At the same time, Northern Ireland Office officials held their second meeting with a Sinn Fein delegation led by Martin McGuinness, who said republicans were "absolutely committed and dedicated to moving their entire situation forward". The meeting, at Stormont Castle, lasted for three and a half hours, ending with agreement that a third session of talks should be held.

On the political talks front, meanwhile, the Northern Ireland minister for political development , Paul Murphy, had a series of meetings with the main constitutional parties, seeing David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists, the Rev Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionists and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

The multi-party talks which have been adjourned during recent elections are to resume at Stormont next week. Over the past year, progress has been slow as difficult issues such as weapons decommissioning have proved all but intractable.

Martin McGuinness yesterday left the public talking to Caoimhghin O Caolain, a Monaghan county councillor who is running for Sinn Fein in the Irish general election and whom Sinn Fein regard as their best chance of taking a seat in the Dail.

Mr McGuinness is to lead a Sinn Fein delegation to talks in South Africa later this week. Representatives of the other major parties will also be going to hear South African politicians explain their negotiating experience. Ironically, the conference is being held under conditions of what can only be described as apartheid, since Unionist parties say they will not have any contact with Sinn Fein.

As a result republicans and Unionists are to be kept apart at all times, with separate travel arrangements, accommodation and conference facilities. Mr McGuinness said: "I think that all of us in Ireland have an awful lot to learn from the South Africans. These people resolved what was undoubtedly one of the most intractable problems the world has seen."

Ms Mowlam is today to meet the Irish Foreign minister, Dick Spring, for talks in Dublin. Their agenda is likely to include discussion of the chances of a new IRA ceasefire, arrangements for the marching season, and the handling of the multi-party talks, which are jointly chaired by the two governments.

They will also probably touch on the question of Bloody Sunday, the 1972 incident in which 14 people were shot dead, since Dublin has been pressing for London to make amends of some sort to the families of the dead. The Taoiseach, John Bruton, yesterday met relatives of the victims.