Ban on parade sets the scene for a stormy summer

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Most of the ingredients for a long hot summer were assembled in Northern Ireland yesterday as next Sunday's contentious loyalist parade at Drumcree was banned amid the continuing deadlock over paramilitary decommissioning.

Three separate announcements set the scene: that the parade would not be allowed through a Catholic area, that Northern Ireland had lost its First Minister, and that the IRA had yet to say when and how it might put its weapons beyond use.

Extra troops have already been drafted in to cope with the loyalist disruption which generally accompanies a ban on the Drumcree parade. Talks are due to begin in Belfast today under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid.

Meanwhile the Canadian general, John de Chastelain, delivering the latest report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, said he had held lengthy talks with a representative of the IRA.

He said that while he believed the IRA was acting in good faith he had yet to hear from it which method it would use to render arms permanently inaccessible or unusable, and when such a process would begin. This particular de Chastelain report will be of limited or no tactical use to those taking part in the talks which are to be held this week, in that it offers little new ground on which to build.

The Canadian general is not known as a naive person, but he has always tried to accentuate the positive in relation to the prospects of arms decommissioning. In this report he as usual implicitly makes it clear he does not regard his contacts with the IRA as time-wasting or futile, and looks forward to further talks. Mr Trimble said however that the report confirmed he had been absolutely right in resigning.

He went on: "It's absolutely clear from it that despite numerous meetings the republicans have said nothing, nothing at all to de Chastelain about what they are going to do, how they are going to do it and when they are going to do it."

While Tony Blair described the report as disappointing, Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern said it was "important to look at the positive and to build on the work that has already been done."

Mr Ahern said the Irish and British governments must continue to broker as much progress as possible. Mr Blair and Mr Ahern are due to join the talks in Belfast next week in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough by the end of the month. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams meanwhile reacted to the growing pressure on republicans to move on disarmament. Speaking in the assembly, he declared: "The most important point is that the current leaderships of the Ulster Unionist party and Democratic Unionist party are now prepared to live on the basis of equality with their nationalist neighbours. The threat to the peace process, where does it come from? From First Ministers, from loyalists who on a daily basis are using guns to shoot Catholics and are bombing their Catholic neighbours. It comes also from within the British system itself from those who want to go back to the old days."