THERE has been speculation that the Orange Order may be softening its historic reluctance to talk to residents’ groups and refusal to meet with Sinn Fein.
Orange Grand Secretary Drew Nelson suggests that although the Order’s refusal to speak with Sinn Fein stands, it could change if republicans were to issue a genuine and unreserved apology for the IRA’s murder of hundreds of Orangemen.
“We have no difficulty with any genuine residents’ group,” he says.
“We do have a difficulty where we believe that an artificially contrived residents’ group has been set up just with a view to opposing a parade and giving us bother. I think that gives us a difficulty.
“But if it’s a genuine residents’ group or community group or whatever it is, we have no problem with that whatsoever.”
What about talking to Sinn Fein?
“Our policy is not to interact with Sinn Fein for the reasons of the last 40 years that I need not go into.”
He adds that while lots of Orangemen interact with Sinn Fein “on a daily basis” in various guises, whether as politicians or in business or their communities, but insists that none do so as Orangemen.
The Orange Order has in the past called for an apology from Sinn Fein for the IRA murders of Orangemen during the Troubles. If that apology was made, would it make it easier for the Order to engage with the republican party?
“I think it would put us in a different place. I think the key word here is remorse. We have over 300 members who were murdered by the republican movement during the Troubles. Now, are they just supposed to be forgotten about, written out of history?
“If Sinn Fein are moving towards some sort of statement of remorse that’s something we would obviously have to look at,” says Mr Nelson.
“But in my opinion every human being is capable of changing their mind and having second thoughts about what’s happened in the past. Whether Sinn Fein as an organisation are capable of doing that, I don’t know.”
He says that it has taken almost a century for some in the Republic to consider acknowledging that Protestants were murdered in the War of Independence and suggests that it may take some time for republicans in Northern Ireland to apologise for the murder of Orangemen.
Does the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness make it easier for the Orange Order to do likewise at some point?
He says that the handshake “wouldn’t bring me any closer to shaking hands with Sinn Fein – the Queen had to do that; she’s the head of state and had to do what her Government advise her to do”.