BY PIERS McGRANDLE CARDINAL DL' CAI I FD for peace and reconciliation this week, as Ireland hurtled towards what seemed as we went to press to be a widespread return to sectarian viollence.
The Archbishop of Armagh issued a warning to both Protestant and Catholic communities as the Portadown confrontation continued.
Trouble flared up this week when a large group of Orangemen, indignant at attempts by the RUC to reroute their march away from Catholic areas, refused to move from Drumcree.
Before leaving for a threeday visit to Austria to preside over a celebration in honour of St Columban, Cardinal Daly claimed that the marching season "manifests the divisions within our society and aggravates the tensions between our communities". He added that "provocative marching" and "confrontational protest" produced "very grave dangers".
"Parades and protests this year take place in a context of a worryingly unstable situation, with a fractured peace process, which can still be salvaged by dialogue, determination and patience".
The Cardinal added that "the right to march peacefully and the right to protest peacefully must be equally respected.
"Members of the Orange Order seem to feel that any alteration of traditional marching routes would represent defeat for their own tradition and cultural values".
The Cardinal also demanded that the RUC, which has often been accused of Loyalist sympathies, "must act with great sensitivity and in a manner which will be seen by all fair-minded people as totally impartial". In conclusion, he said: "In this land, where virtually everyone claims to be Christian, we should remember that dialogue and tolerance and respect for those who differ from us are very close to the heart of Christianity.".
The Cardinal's words came as Northern Ireland was in danger of returning to fullscale violence as hundreds of Orangemen and their supporters faced riot police across concrete barricades at Drumcree, in Portadown, Co Armagh.
In Belfast, RUC officers were stoned by a crowd of several hundred youths in the Protestant Sandy Row area, and a RUC Land Rover was burnt out after driving through a barricade of flaming tyres.
Catholic families were escorted by police from their homes in the Old Park area of north Belfast after threats from Loyalists. The situation was described as "pretty volatile".
Another security spokesman said: "Republicans have been attempting to entice loyalists into breaking their ceasefire. Ulster could be heading for the abyss".
Earlier in the week the body of a Catholic taxi driver, who was thought to have been murdered by loyalist terrorists, was found near Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Although nobody claimed direct responsibility for the killing of Martin McGoldrick, a 31-year-old married man from Lurgan, police said that they believed the Ulster Voluntary Force was responsible.
The murder of the taxi driver was seen as the first sectarian killing of a Catholic since loyalist leaders declared a ceasefire in October 1994.
The political ramifications from this week's protest are hard to gauge, but the three Unionist parties announced that they would not join the multi-party talks at Stormont until the dispute was resolved.
The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democrat Unionists, had told Loyalists that their protest was "worth fighting for and dying for" as he urged the Orangemen to stand firm.
The confrontation, dubbed the "siege of Drumcree" has come to symbolise to Unionists the essence of their struggle.They believe that the nationalist opposition to their march is a blatant attempt by Sinn Fein to destabilise Unionism.