A leading Orange Order figure has said he and his brethren are at a loss to understand why the “tolerance and respect” which his institution has displayed has not been reciprocated.
Speaking at the large-scale Rossnowlagh demonstration in Co Donegal, Stuart Brooker, assistant grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said that the Order finds itself under permanent attack, and in response has “challenged itself” and has been “reaching out”.
However, he said that such acts of “goodwill” are sometimes not mirrored.
His remarks came in a prepared speech to brethren, the contents of which was seen by the News Letter, delivered on Saturday at the march in the Republic of Ireland.
It is estimated that thousands of Orangemen and women took part, and that roughly 50 lodges, accompanied by 30 bands, were involved.
Many families with young children gathered at vantage points along the route to take in the demonstration, and among the onlookers was DUP leader Arlene Foster.
The Grand Master of the Orange Order Edward Stevenson was among those on the march in the coastal community in the south-west of Co Donegal.
Mr Brooker told fellow Orangemen on Saturday: “As an institution, we are being challenged on many fronts.
“Difficulties are being created; we are under constant attack, and often unfair scrutiny.
“One of the biggest issues we currently face is organised opposition to our traditional parades, and in this respect, we are branded intransigent, and insensitive.
“We have responded by challenging ourselves.
“And I believe that we have responded in a responsible manner, by reaching out to the wider community as never before. We have done so in a spirit of openness and goodwill.
“It’s a pity that we don’t see that same tolerance and respect reciprocated by others. It is something we cannot understand.
“We have presented many opportunities for others to learn more about us, and our culture, and what our core values are. And it is encouraging that many have responded in a positive way, and have come to understand us more.
“We have reached out to the nationalist community as never before, right across the wider institution, and our education programmes are testament to that.
“We have done so in a spirit of openness and goodwill, evidenced in the success of the Twelfth here in Rossnowlagh today, and as a result of the response and cooperation members here have experienced from the local community in the run up.”
However, he said that there were questions facing the Order, namely: is it relevant today? Is it attractive? Is it seen by a wider audience? Why should people join, and what has it got to offer?
“I think we are standing at a crossroads,” he said.
“And we are facing testing times. Wider society is looking to see where we are going, and many would like to see us failing, and fading away. This is not going to happen.
“What we must do is progress, evolve, and adapt to the world in which we live. We must modernise, and rationalise, and bring our young members on.”
However, he said this must not come at the expense of its “core values” – adding that the Order is “a Christian organisation that upholds the standards of the Reformed faith”.
Describing the Order as “the finest institution in the world”, he said if it is to maintain its place in society, it must be promoted as good and relevant “not only amongst the membership, but in the wider community”.