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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Loyalists: Ireland Sliding To Unrest

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland's flashpoint "marching season" for pro-British Protestants began peacefully Monday with a warning that the province was edging back to a pattern of sectarian violence.

"The history of Northern Ireland indicates that when one side becomes violent, the other reacts. Slowly, we are sliding back to where we were," David Ervine, a spokesman for pro-British loyalists said.

He was commenting on an attempted Loyalist car bomb attack Sunday against a Belfast office of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, Sinn Fein, in an apparent breach of the Loyalists' October 1994 cease-fire.

Ervine, a leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that, officially, the Loyalist truce was still intact but said a spate of attacks by the IRA had put the cease-fire under immense strain.

The IRA bombed a British rail network last week, shot a Northern Ireland policeman in the leg and tried to ambush a British army patrol south of Belfast in an intensification of its war against British rule of the province.

Ervine said the only way to ease growing tension in Northern Ireland was for the IRA to restore the truce it broke in February 1996 when it abandoned a cease-fire and renewed its campaign against British targets.

Several Protestant groups marched Monday through Belfast at the start of the marching season when they parade to display their pro-British loyalties and allegiance to Northern Ireland as a longstanding British province.

Police said one march, in which about 20 people took part, had been voluntarily rerouted to avoid passing through the Catholic, Irish nationalist Lower Ormeau Road and passed off without incident. Last year's parade descended into riots.

The 1996 marching season caused the biggest civil disturbances in decades when Protestants and Catholics rioted after police banned then allowed an Orange Order parade through a Catholic section of the southern town of Portadown.

The 40 percent Catholic minority says such demonstrations in Irish nationalist areas are insulting and intimidating, and negotiations are expected at local levels across the province to take the heat out of more than 1,000 planned marches this year.

David Trimble, leader of the province's biggest political party, the pro-British Ulster Unionist party, said he hoped that Loyalists would not be goaded back into violence by the continuing IRA campaign.

"A bright spark has been the maintenance of the Loyalist cease-fire," he said, urging the Loyalists to maintain it.

Sunday's attempted car bomb attack was the latest to be blamed on Loyalists.

Earlier this month, suspected Loyalist gunmen shot dead a Catholic father of nine in the house where he was preparing a feeding bottle for a child.

Northern Ireland is in limbo pending the outcome of British elections due on May 1 to see if there will be any change in policy by the opposition Labour party, which is expected to oust Prime Minister John Major's ruling Conservatives.

Loyalist spokesman says N.Ireland "sliding back"