'Offensive' remark on Order removed from Tory website

AN "offensive" remark about the Orange Order has been removed from the Northern Ireland Conservatives' website.

The Tories have said the comment, highlighted by the DUP, was a personal view and did not reflect the party line.

However, relations between the the Conservative Party and DUP last night appeared to be turning sour in the wake of unremitting DUP attacks on the Tory-UUP merger talks.

The Conservatives issued a statement warning Peter Robinson's party to stop meddling in a matter which is none of their business and concentrate on running Northern Ireland.

There is already friction between the parties after the DUP backed Gordon Brown on the issue of 42-day detention for terrorist suspects in the House of Commons and saved the Prime Minister from humiliation.

In the uproar in the chamber after that vote Iris Robinson incensed Conservative MPs by goading them with a nine-finger salute, inferring that the nine DUP MPs held sway in the House.

Now the latest in a growing number of DUP attempts to pick holes in the UUP-Tory relationship has gone down badly.

It came on Monday when DUP MLA Edwin Poots highlighted comments on the Northern Ireland Conservatives' website which said the Orange Order was a "backward-facing, history- obsessed, parish pump society".

He condemned the Tories and demanded to know if the UUP was now moving to a position of hostility towards the Orange Institution.

Ulster Unionist and Orangeman Tom Elliott said this was patently nonsense.

Yesterday, however, Mr Poots said it was noticeable Mr Elliott had not condemned the "parish pump" remarks on the Tory website by a local senior Conservative.

"Clearly the UUP would rather keep on good terms with their new-found friends than defend the Orange Institution from such scandalous attacks," he said.

"Mr Elliott and his party would do well to tell us if they agree with comments such as this."

Mr Poots also produced an email, from the same local Tory who posted the Orange Order remarks on the website, to an unnamed local unionist, in which he further said: "Also, frankly, I'm bored with the 'holier-than-thou/Orange Order must never be criticised' stance taken by so many 'unionists' out there."

Mr Poots said this was the Tories making "clear their feelings regarding the Orange Institution and indeed Ulster/Protestant culture. Clearly Orangemen won't be welcome in a merged UUP-Tory party."

But a Tory spokesman said the opinions on the website were personal opinions and not official policy.

He called on the DUP to get on with the job of government, not nit-picking at the merger talks.

"Our focus is on the development of normal politics in this part of the UK. We believe that people in Northern Ireland are concerned about the whole range of 'bread-and-butter issues' some of which Stormont are failing to address and others which Labour are failing to address at Westminster," he said

"The Conservative Party has no issue with the Orange Order. It is perfectly legal organisation and many of its members are engaged in charity and church work.”

A UUP spokesperson said: “Judging by its most recent ill-tempered statement, the DUP Press Office appears to be having a bad few days. The accusation that the UUP is engaged in a ‘diatribe’ against other unionists is quite frankly laughable – it was, after all, the DUP’s Edwin Poots who first attacked the UUP and members of the Orange Order in a highly inflammatory manner.

“It is highly regrettable that the DUP have – yet again – chosen to bring the Order into partisan politics.”

The UUP also noted that while its party leader was an Orange-man, neither Peter Robinson nor ex-DUP leader Ian Paisley are.