The Orange Order has warned unionist politicians supporting the Maze ‘peace centre’ that they “do not have the full confidence of the people who elected them”.
In an editorial to this month’s Orange Standard which is heavily sceptical of the DUP-Sinn Fein proposal for the ‘conflict transformation centre’, unionist politicians are warned against ignoring grassroots unionist anger.
Although the Orange Standard’s editorial is always unsigned, it is seen as reflective of the view of Grand Lodge.
Given that its membership is drawn from all strands of unionism, the Orange Order is generally loathe to take strong positions on issues which clearly divide unionism and therefore the editorial will be seen as an indication that rank and file Orange opinion across the party divides is wary of the Maze development.
The Orange warning – on the back of UUP, TUV and UKIP opposition – comes as a challenge for DUP leader Peter Robinson who has strenuously denied claims that the centre will be a “shrine to terrorism”.
The Orange editorial said that the Maze ‘peace centre’ was “pivotal in our society” and warned that “no one should be in any doubt that how the story of the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland is told in future may well depend on what is agreed about the telling of the story today”.
The leading article said that many unionists “are not convinced that the conflict transformation centre will not be hijacked”.
In a warning to MLAs, it said: “Unionist politicians must realise that they do not have the full confidence of the people who elected them at the present time if they seek to convince us all that the proposed centre will be no threat.”
The Order said that unionism’s “divided approach” was “assisting a republican agenda”.
“Republicans will want to have a centre for pilgrimage to the Maze. They will want to have tours of the prison block where the hunger strikes occurred.
“Unionists do not want to see the hospital block retained and as an institution the Orange Order is mindful that we have lost 337 members to terrorist gunmen and bombers and that the memory of the innocent victims of men who were imprisoned must not be forgotten.
“The conflict which will be commemorated was no struggle for freedom against oppression. Rather it bore all the hallmarks of a nasty, sectarian and fascist attack on democracy.”
The editorial did, however, praise the naming of the centre as one of ‘conflict transformation’ rather than ‘conflict resolution’, arguing that the Troubles have not been resolved: “As far as republicans are concerned it is merely transformed to another arena, this time one of cultural warfare.”
The article added: “We would be foolish to believe that the Maze development will be a neutral one where all stories will be shared.
“It must be suspected that, in the republican view, to paraphrase Orwell, all stories may be equal, but some will be more equal than others.”