A 23-year-old salesman appeared in a Belfast court on Tuesday charged with murdering three young Roman Catholic boys in a sectarian arson attack on their home nine days ago.

Thomas Gilford did not speak during the brief hearing at which a police chief confirmed that the defendant had been charged with the deaths of the Quinn children, Richard, 11, Mark, 10, and Jason, 8.He was remanded in custody until Aug. 12, when he will appear at another hearing at the court attached to Northern Ireland's top security Maze prison.

Gilford, who has cropped, bleached blond hair and looks younger than he is, has strenuously denied the murder charges.

The Quinn boys burned to death after attackers threw gasoline bombs into their home on a predominantly Protestant housing estate in the town of Ballymoney.

Police have made several arrests since the arson attack, which has been blamed on Protestant extremists. One man has been released, but several others are still being questioned.

The attack on the Quinn home took place at the height of a protest by traditionalist Protestants camped out in a field near Por-ta-down to insist on their right to parade through a Catholic area of the town.

A standoff between the Protestant "Orangemen" and security forces touched off riots across Northern Ireland and led to violent clashes at the protest itself.

But the deaths of the Quinn children shocked many Protestants into withdrawing their support for the Portadown protest.

The number still camping out at the site has dwindled from thousands to just a handful.