Talks to resolve conflict over Portadown marches break up

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THE KILLERS of a woman murdered in a loyalist bomb attack on her Portadown home were tonight branded cowards by her son.

Elizabeth O'Neill, 59, was killed when the explosive device was thrown through the living-room window of her home in the largely loyalist Corcrain area of the Co Armagh town early on Saturday.

Five men arrested by police in the town during searches after the bombing and a similar attack on a nearby house, remain in RUC custody. Extreme loyalists have been blamed for carrying out the attacks in a bid to wreck weekend talks to end the Drumcree parades crisis.

Mrs O'Neill's son, Martin, said her death was pointless and not worth the seven-minute walk local Orangemen want to make down the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

He said of the bombers: "I hope they are proud of their handiwork. I hope they think they are big men. A 59-year-old woman blown up ... it didn't take a hard man to do that.

"If a seven-minute walk down the road done this to my mother, is it worth that, is it worth it? How many more innocent people are going to suffer like this?"

Mrs O'Neill, brought up a Protestant but married to a Catholic, is to be buried tomorrow in Portadown after a funeral service conducted by the local rector and a Catholic priest.

The shadowy Orange Volunteers today denied involvement in the bombing, as did the Loyalist Volunteer Force on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the murder, the Prime Minister came under renewed pressure to resolve the marching crisis surrounding the Drumcree Orange Order parade.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the onus was on Mr Blair and the British Government to uphold the rights of the people of the nationalist Garvaghy Road. "This beleaguered community have suffered greatly at the hands of Orange fundamentalists," he said. "and the nationalist people of Portadown have been targeted as part of a vicious sectarian campaign."

His call came as an initiative launched by the Prime Minister to try to resolve the marching crisis appeared to be heading for failure. A fresh effort to find a way through the impasse will be made this week, after two days of fruitless proximity talks between representatives of the two sides.

But the Orangemen today criticised the handling of the discussions and suggested the mediator was biased against them. It is understood they were outraged by a proposalthat the parade be allowed to go ahead this year along the Garvaghy Road but take an alternative route in future years.