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Thursday, April 23, 1998 Published at 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK

Events: Northern Ireland: Latest News

Commission members resign amid parades row
image: [ Mr Blair was concerned about the effects on the peace process of the parades report ]
Mr Blair was concerned about the effects on the peace process of the parades report

Two members of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission have resigned amid the growing row over Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to block the publication of a report on this summer's marches.

Tommy Cheevers, a member of the Apprentice Boys, said he was leaving because he felt he could play a better role in resolving the parades problem at a different level. He said he was not unhappy with the overall role of the Commission.

The move came hours after Glen Barr, a former UDA spokesman, resigned. Mr Barr denied that his decision had anything to do with Mr Blair's move to delay the report. He said he had no difficulties with the commission or its likely decisions, but blamed "enormous pressure from the media and others".

[ image: Martin Smyth, Ulster Unionist MP: intolerable situation]
Martin Smyth, Ulster Unionist MP: intolerable situation
The Reverend Martin Smyth, Ulster Unionist MP for Belfast South, said he was surprised at this explanation because he felt Mr Barr had managed to deal with the media in a very pressurised period in Northern Ireland. He suspected that the real reason was "because he wants out of an intolerable situation."

Mr Barr, whose appointment to the Commission caused controversy because of his loyalist links, is the third member to resign since December. His decision to stand down came amid growing anger over Mr Blair's role in the affair.

The report was to have outlined which marches should go ahead, and which should be banned or re-routed. But Mr Blair contacted the Parades Commission to say he believed the report might be destabilising at a "difficult and sensitive time".

Joel Patton, of the Spirit of Drumcree group, said: "It is quite evident that there is political manipulation in this. They don't want the bad news to come out until after the referendum. It is obvious that the Parades Commission was about to ban the parade to Drumcree."

[ image: Gerry Adams: report has been re-routed]
Gerry Adams: report has been re-routed
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was concerned about the effect of delaying crucial decisions on parades.

He said: "It's as if the report of the commission has itself been re-routed. Obviously Mr Blair intervened because he thought that the outcome of this report would have had a destabilising effect on unionists. But one also has to think about the plight of the host communities."

Meanwhile, Security Minister Adam Ingram denied that the Prime Minister had taken action because of pressure from the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

Prisoners moved

[ image: The report was to have outlined which marches should go ahead]
The report was to have outlined which marches should go ahead
In a separate development, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has agreed that five men convicted of terrorist offences in England will be moved to prisons in the Republic of Ireland.

Four are members of the Balcombe Street gang, which was arrested after a long siege in central London in 1975. The fifth is Paul Magee, who was convicted of murdering a Yorkshire special constable in 1992.

Ulster Unionist MP William Thompson claimed the Home Secretary had sanctioned the move to make it easier for the men to be released. He said it was a follow-on to the Stormont peace agreement which said prisoners would be released within two years.

The parents of Special Constable Glenn Goodman, murdered by Magee, said they were "absolutely and totally disgusted" by the decision to transfer Magee to the Irish Republic. "We feel insulted and ignored by the powers that be," said his father Brian Goodman.

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