Grand Master Edward Stevenson: All we ask is respect and tolerance

Grand Master Edward Stevenson
Grand Master Edward Stevenson

THERE has been much media attention in recent days surrounding the Orange Institution.

Last week, tens of thousands of people took part in and attended Twelfth demonstrations in villages, towns and cities across the Province.

Once again the biggest event in the Loyal Orders’ calendar was a spectacle to behold and a day to remember, as the Orange family celebrated our proud culture and heritage in a peaceful and traditional manner.

Among those venues enjoying the carnival atmosphere, and free from any element of trouble, were Londonderry, Rasharkin, Carnlough and Glengormley.

A large number of tourists also witnessed the pageantry for the first time, enjoying the warm sunshine and the family occasion.

We thank the News Letter for their comprehensive and detailed coverage of the occasion, and continuing support.

However, due to the decision of the Parades Commission and a lack of tolerance by republicans, others in the press focused predominantly on events in north Belfast on the Twelfth evening.

Regretfully, violence ensued after three Orange Lodges in Ligoniel were prevented from completing their long established and legitimate return parade along the Crumlin Road.

Despite the preposterous determination from the Parades Commission, Grand Lodge made it abundantly clear that although violence from republicans may have closed the road, violence would not re-open it either. This was a view shared by the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast.

I have no equivocation whatsoever in condemning those who engaged in unlawful activity, including a minority wearing Orange collarettes. Their behaviour was not befitting of the qualifications of an Orangeman, nor our Christian ethos. These brethren will be dealt with in accordance with our internal disciplinary procedures.

Conversely, those members of the Institution who tried to calm the situation should be praised for their actions.

This was not widely reported, and neither were events in east Belfast when a return parade was subjected to a premeditated and sustained attack from the Short Strand.

Such attacks are unacceptable and clear evidence yet again that republicans simply cannot tolerate Orange culture.

Where is the evidence from the republican movement and nationalist politicians that their shared future includes us?

I am clear that the decision of the Parades Commission regarding the Ligoniel lodges was not a mere mistake or a simple error of judgement.

I believe it was a deliberately malevolent decision by a body which is ill-disposed towards this Institution.

They knew full well the consequences of rewarding last year’s republican violence and at the same time punishing the lodges who fully complied with the determination.

The fact that the same lodges have since broken new ground by engaging directly in talks with the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA) was ignored completely by the commission.

These events – reinforced by this week’s successful motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly – validate the view of the Orange family and wider unionism that the Parades Commission is not fit for purpose and must leave the stage forthwith.

Grand Lodge has confirmed it will actively participate in the Haass initiative, with a view to replacing this fundamentally flawed system with a better regulatory process.

We will approach this process with a positive mindset, building on the work of the Institution’s internal Parades Advisory Committee and ongoing discussions with our partners in the Unionist Forum.

I trust the views of the vast Protestant parading sector, including the seven other Loyal Orders and bands community, will also be taken into account.

Let there be no doubt, the Orange Institution is committed to playing its role in making Northern Ireland a better place for everyone. All we ask for in return is respect and tolerance for our culture and traditions.