Orangemen to reduce ban protests

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The Independent Online
A DISTINCT wave of relief greeted the announcement yesterday by the Orange Order that it is scaling down protests against a ban on this year's Drumcree loyalist march in Portadown, Co Armagh.

The move is seen as significantly reducing the prospects for the type of disturbances that have been seen in the past four years, beginning at Drumcree and spreading to many other parts of Northern Ireland.

Everyone is none the less aware that the problem retains the potential to flare up again. While the Orange Order refuses to meet Catholic residents of the disputed Garvaghy Road area, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is involved in meetings with local nationalists. The holy grail for Mr Trimble and most other political elements would be the emergence of a formula that would manage to resolve the Drumcree issue and the wider arms decommissioning disagreement.

While such a panacea remains elusive, the search for it will continue at Downing Street today when Tony Blair and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, resume talks with the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and others. While no one is predicting an immediate breakthrough, some observers claim they scent that some progress is being made.

It became clear yesterday that more internecine Unionist strife is on the way when Robert McCartney, leader of the United Kingdom Unionist party, said he will run in the European elections. Although Mr McCartney's party is small he is a prominent and combative figure whose candidature will ensure a lively campaign. He and Mr Trimble's party exchanged angry broadsides yesterday.

The Rev Ian Paisley, who has invariably topped the polls in the European election, will be seeking to do so again, and in the process undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

The fourth Unionist candidate is David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, a grouping that has paramilitary links and which supports the Good Friday accord. He said yesterday: "We are a young party filled with young people. We have the whole future ahead of us - hopefully, a rosy future for everyone in Northern Ireland."

On Drumcree, contacts are to continue between Mr Trimble and local Catholic residents, who until recently complained he had never met them. Yesterday three of the largest sections of the Orange Order said they had dropped plans to amass up to 100,000 members at Drumcree, a move that would have had grave security implications.

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