Ulster urged to grasp second chance

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The Independent Online
Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday urged political parties in Ulster not to miss the new opportunity for peace, describing it as "a second chance".

Ms Mowlam, who will meet Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, tomorrow, said that people caught a glimpse of what the future could hold during the first IRA ceasefire which collapsed with the bombing of the Isle of Dogs in east London in February l996.

The meeting will be the first between a government minister and Sinn Fein since just before the ending of the 17-month truce. It forms part of preparations for the scheduled entry by republicans to the Stormont talks process next month.

Ms Mowlam told business leaders in Belfast that if she decided by the end of the month that the ceasefire was genuine, Sinn Fein would have a place at the negotiating table on 15 September. By that time an international commission for arms decommissioning would also be in place. Both British and Irish governments, she insisted, were committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations.

Ms Mowlam said that the governments had an opportunity to improve the basis on which everybody could work together, one that embraced balanced constitutional change more broadly based than the l985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Politicians, she said, needed to pick up and run with change. "After all, what is there to fear?" she said. "Consent is there as a central and inviolable principle. There isn't going to be any change in Northern Ireland's constitutional status unless a majority here want it. But if they do want change, we'll support it.

"No one is going to be pushed or bullied or beguiled. Open and honest discussion with all views on the table, is the only sensible and realistic way forward. It threatens no one."

Meanwhile, talks were under way yesterday to try to work out a deal to ensure that this weekend's annual parade by 10,000 Apprentice Boys in Londonderry passes off without trouble.

Representatives of the order, local business leaders and the nationalist Bogside Residents Association attended discussions chaired by the Mayor of Derry, Martin Bradley.

Alistair Simpson, governor of the Apprentice Boys, said after a lengthy meeting that it had been "very constructive". He said that the three sides seemed quite happy with the proposals put forward by the order for Saturday and he was hopeful of a peaceful parade next weekend.

About 100 members of the local Apprentice Boys are due to parade around the ancient city walls, including a contentious quarter-mile stretch above the Bogside, before joining the main Londonderry parade on Saturday.

The Bogside Residents group said it would not protest against the march around the walls if a deal could be struck over "feeder" parades by Apprentice Boys in the nationalist villages of Dunloy, Co Antrim and Bellaghy, Co Londonderry as well as along Belfast's nationalist Lower Ormeau Road.

Last year the walls were closed to the marchers on public safety grounds on the orders of the former secretary of state, Sir Patrick Mayhew. The Apprentice Boys finally carried out their march two months late in October.