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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 01:48 GMT 02:48 UK


Drumcree talks promised

Loyalist protesters heckled participants

Talks between Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble and nationalist representatives aimed at defusing the stand-off surrounding the Drumcree parade have ended with the promise of further discussions.

Mr Trimble held his first face-to-face meeting with Garvaghy Road residents' spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith in an attempt to defuse the continuing deadlock over the controversial Orange Order march.

BBC's David Eades: This meeting has broken new ground
The talks between local elected representatives ended on Tuesday night with parties agreeing to meet for further discussions.

Mr Trimble, who is also leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, had invited local councillors and members of the Northern Irish Assembly to Craigavon civic centre in an attempt to find a compromise to end the stand-off.

Last year the march was banned and the security forces prevented members of the Orange Order from walking along the mainly nationalist Garvaghy Road in Portadown.

The Search for Peace
A small group of Orangemen is maintaining a vigil outside Drumcree church, demanding the right to complete the parade. In recent years the dispute has led to serious unrest across Northern Ireland.

The meeting on Tuesday was the first between Mr Trimble, an orangeman and also MP for Portadown, and Mr MacCionnaith.

Mr MacCionnaith, attending as an independent local councillor, said he had been seeking a meeting with Mr Trimble on the Drumcree issue since 1995.

Prior to the meeting, he said: "I'm here in a positive mind set. We've always said dialogue is the way forward.

"But at the end of the day it's not Brendan MacCionnaith who is making the decision, it's the nationalist community."

[ image: David Trimble was praised by Prime Minister Tony Blair for his initiative]
David Trimble was praised by Prime Minister Tony Blair for his initiative
The Ulster Unionist contingent, led by Mr Trimble, also included assembly member George Savage and local councillors Mark Neale, Jim McCammick, Arnold Hatch, Ken Twyble, Sam Gardiner and Joseph Truman.

Assembly member Dara O'Hagan and local councillor John O'Dowd represented Sinn Fein.

Another assembly member Brid Rodgers led the SDLP representation, accompanied by local councillors Ignatius Fox and Pat Mallon. Sean Hagan represented the Alliance Party.

The meeting was chaired by Craigavon council chief executive Trevor Rainey.

But Co Armagh Orange Grand Master Denis Watson and Craigavon DUP mayor Mervyn Carrick stayed away.

Mr Watson and Mr Carrick did not attend the meeting because they believe the residents' protest is Sinn Fein-orchestrated, and the talks are an attempt to link a solution to a decommissioning deal which has deadlocked the province's peace process.

As the participants entered the civic centre they were heckled by about 30 loyalist protesters, waving Union flags and banners with slogans such as "Trimble Traitor, no deal".

Mr MacCionnaith said he was disappointed that Mr Watson and Mr Carrick had refused to attend the meeting.

He accused Mr Carrick of hypocrisy, as he had been calling for talks to resolve the situation for some time.

Democrat Unionist assembly member Paul Berry, who was protesting outside the civic centre, said the DUP would never have dialogue with Sinn Fein or IRA representatives and he included Mr MacCionnaith "in the same stable".

He said the only way the Drumcree issue would be resolved was for Prime Minister Tony Blair to overturn the Parades Commission decision and let the Orange Order march down Garvaghy Road.

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