Review of Ulster marches ordered

Ulster on the edge: Ministers struggle to salvage the peace process amid party acrimony

A review of marches in Ulster was ordered yesterday by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, in an attempt to defuse the explosive tensions over the marching season in the province.

In a separate move, Sir Patrick Mayhew agreed to Irish pressure for an urgent meeting with Dick Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, to thrash out the deep-seated differences between the two governments. The Prime Minister will also meet Ulster Unionist and SDLP leaders in the next few days in an attempt to keep the talks process in Ulster alive.

The Irish Government will demand that the review of the marches - with the prospect of a commission to vet the route and size of processions - should be independent, and be brought in as an emergency measure to deal with Orange parades next month.

Dublin and London will underline their determination to rescue the talks process, with another meeting attended by the democratic parties in Belfast today . But the Irish are deeply concerned by the threat of the Apprentice Boys to stage a march in Derry on 12 August along the same route as a march in 1969 led to deployment of the Army on the streets.

Sir Patrick made it clear in a statement to the Commons that he would use the talks, expected to resume on Thursday, to rebut the "quite unjustified and unwarranted criticism" by the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, of the decision to allow the march in Drumcree to go ahead, which rekindled violence across the province.

David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, came in for sharp Commons criticism for his role in the Orangemen's protests. Mo Mowlam, the Labour spokeswoman, had been urging an independent review of the marches on the Government for some time and reiterated her call. David Steel, for the Liberal Democrats, accused Mr Trimble of saying, in effect: "There is a crowd: I must follow it."

At a hurriedly arranged press conference, Mr Trimble said Drumcree was in his constituency and it was inevitable he would be involved.

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