BRIAN DONNELLY and ESTHER HUTCHESON A controversial republican march has been scrapped after 20 years, its organisers said yesterday.

The James Connolly Society, which honours the Edinburgh-born Irish republican and socialist leader, said its annual march was being halted as a result of progress in Irish politics and "to help conciliation". However, its spokesman, Jim Slaven, who also represents Cairde na hÉireann, the support organisation for Irish republicans in Scotland, said other republican marches would continue in Glasgow and the west "until there is a united Ireland".

The ending of the march was welcomed by First Minister Jack McConnell, who has spearheaded efforts to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.

Mr McConnell said: "People all over Scotland now recognise the need to eradicate sectarianism and we are making good progress.

"This is another welcome step forward and comes on the back of other marching organisations working toget-her and reducing the number of marches and parades in Scotland."

The Connolly march has attracted up to 3000 participants in recent years. Trouble has flared at the event, which was twice banned by the local authority in the 1990s because of counter-demonstrations, although marches in recent years have been relatively peaceful.

Mr Slaven said: "We have made this hugely significant decision in the context of a recognition of the changed situation in Ireland, our ongoing commitment to eradicating sectarianism in Scotland and our willingness to encourage the process of moving away from conflict and towards reconciliation."

He added: "We remain committed to honouring James Connolly in the city of his birth and to this end will seek to develop alternatives to the march which recognise Connolly's significance in an inclusive manner."

Plans include establishing a James Connolly Trust committed to social projects within Edinburgh, campaigning for the city to officially recognise Connolly, recognition of Edinburgh's "Little Ireland" and pressing for the history of James Connolly to be taught in Scotland's schools.

Connolly was born in 1868 to Irish immigrant parents in Edinburgh and spent his early years in the city's Cowgate, or Little Ireland. He was active in socialist and trade union circles and in 1912 co-founded the Irish Labour Party.

One of seven signatories to the 1916 proclamation for Irish independence, he was executed for his part in the Easter Rising, controversially tied to a chair because he was too weak to stand.

Ewan Aitken, Edinburgh City Council leader, said: "I am encouraged this group has chosen to look at other ways of expressing their views about the life of James Connolly. We would be interested to hear any proposals that they bring forward."

Ian Bell, columnist with The Herald and great-grandson of John Connolly, James's brother, said yesterday: "Edinburgh has given too little credit - meaning none - to the foremost Scottish political thinker of the 20th century."

A spokesman for the Orange Order in Scotland declined to say whether its marches in Edinburgh or elsewhere would be scaled down.