Stalemate over Ulster marches

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The Independent Online
The British and Irish governments are at loggerheads over plans to defuse tensions over sectarian marches in Northern Ireland, amid growing concern over a parade scheduled in Londonderry for August 10.

Tensions over the issues arose at last Thursday's meeting of British and Irish ministers in London. Last Monday the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, promised a "general review that will make recommendations about better management of future controversial parades".

London and Dublin concede that the move will not take place in time to help solve potential problems over the Apprentice Boys' parade in Derry. Both governments view the march as a potential disaster. It was the same march in 1969 that led to violent rioting at the beginning of the Troubles. The parade also coincides with the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in 1971.

Tensions are still running high in the province after last weekend's riots in Drumcree, and early yesterday morning, rioting broke out in Omagh, following separate loyalist and nationalist parades through the town.

But 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 Mayhew, the Northern Ireland Secretary, 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 was announced did the march return to its traditional route along the city walls when security fences were removed for the first time.

But even last year, during the ceasefire, nationalists condemned the RUC's handling of the parade, and said 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.

Yesterday Mo Mowlam, Labour's Northern Ireland spokeswoman, 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 July 26 charged with conspiracy to cause explosions.