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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK

UK Politics

Drumcree protest may be scaled down

The parade has been a flashpoint between communities

Plans by the Protestant Orange Order in Northern Ireland to stage a massive demonstration at Drumcree appear to be foundering.

The order had been considering telling all its members to go to Drumcree for the 12 July parade, the most controversial in the province.

The Search for Peace
But now members of the order's three biggest county groups have said they will hold their traditional parades to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in their own areas.

A combined demonstration at Drumcree would have attracted more than 100,000 Orangemen, it has been claimed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said peace in Northern Ireland is now "so close".

He was speaking in Germany ahead of a fresh round of talks in London on Friday to try to break the deadlock over the decommissioning of terrorist weapons.

The prime minister said the work on breaking the peace process deadlock would continue "the moment I return to London" later on Thursday.

Annual parade since 1807

Orangemen from the Portadown lodge will still try to march along the nationalist Garvaghy Road on 4 July.

The BBC's Mervyn Jess reports on "a sign of common sense"
Grand Orange Lodge executive officer George Patton said: "It is my understanding that these three counties have said they want to hold their own 12th celebrations, but five other districts have still to decide whether to go to Drumcree."

The parade has always been a flashpoint between Orangemen and the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road.

[ image: A vigil has been held at Drumcree since last summer]
A vigil has been held at Drumcree since last summer
The march, which takes place on a Sunday in July, has been an annual parade by the Protestant Orange Order since 1807.

It celebrates the 1690 battle when King William of Orange defeated the Stuart King James.

There has been a protest maintained at Drumcree since Orangemen were banned from marching down the road last summer.

The announcement from the county groups has angered some unionist politicians.

Ian Paisley Junior, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said it would cause disillusionment among loyalists.

He said: "They have got to make a decisive stand on Drumcree.

"If you bring 100,000 Orangemen to Drumcree this July they will get down the road, if you don't they won't.

"The Orange Order has got to stand up for itself."

[ image: Orangemen have been parading in Drumcree since 1807]
Orangemen have been parading in Drumcree since 1807
Earlier, Northern Ireland Assembly First Minister David Trimble said he was optimistic that the dispute could be resolved in a matter of weeks, after he held private talks with Garvaghy Road residents.

The talks with nationalist residents, including Councillor Breandan MacCionnaith, lasted 90 minutes.

A spokesman for Mr Trimble, who is also leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, described the meeting as "constructive".

Mr Trimble, MP for Upper Bann, the area where the dispute talks took place, has held three meetings with nationalist residents in the past eight days.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew MacKay welcomed the decision to scale down the march, saying: "I believe that this will reduce tensions in what could have been a very tense few weeks.

"I hope others, including local residents' groups, will follow this moderate stance."

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