Tension rises over Belfast Orange march

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The Independent Online
THE NORTHERN Ireland Parades Commission acted yesterday to ban a proposed new parade that would have brought 20,000 Orangemen and supporters to the edge of a Catholic area whose representatives had branded the march as "insane".

The Orange Order in Belfast wanted to divert the main 12 July celebration in the city from its traditional rural destination to the edge of the lower Ormeau area, scene of many marching controversies.

Last night it was not immediately known whether the Orange Order would respect the ruling from the Commission, which it refuses to recognise.

The move came after a day of activity in the peace process and the marching season, as Tony Blair met Orangemen while nationalists and unionists differed on the merits of the de-commissioning argument.

Much apprehension is in the air concerning Monday's main 12th of July parade There is much uncertainty too over next Thursday's meeting of the Belfast assembly, when it will become known whether the Ulster Unionist party will go along with the devolution and de-commissioning deal urged upon them so strongly by the British and Irish governments.

Mr Blair's Downing Street meeting with Portadown Orangemen was the latest sign that he has become immersed not just in the peace process but in tackling the parades issue which has caused so much disruption in recent years.

Some Orange leaders believe they have found a sympathetic ear in Downing Street and Mr Blair will eventually fix it for them to march down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, from which they have been banned since last July.

The Orangemen have little time for Northern Ireland Secretary Dr Mo Mowlam and their faith in Mr Blair is thought to have been a major factor in the Order's decision to dramatically scale down their Drumcree protest and to take steps to avert violent clashes with the security forces.

In the peace process, theIrish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the Ulster Unionist party called on the IRA to spell out a commitment on the de-commissioning of weapons. Mr Ahern said a clear statement could be "the clincher" which would make the process work.

"I believe Sinn Fein are doing everything possible they can, but we need to hear from the IRA," he said. "I hope we do. I hope we get a clear, unambiguous statement. I think that would go a great deal to reassuring people, me included, that we are moving in the way we are going."

A senior Unionist negotiator Sir Reg Empey said the IRA must give a clear commitment to disarmament, while the British and Irish governments should spell out promised fail-safe legislation.

He added: "We are not interested in indications. We are interested in commitments and certainties."