AN historic first speech to Dublin’s Parliament by a senior Orange Order figure yesterday ended with Fianna Fail saying that it was open to an Orange Order parade through Dublin at some point.
Orange Grand Secretary Drew Nelson told the Seanad that Orangemen in the Republic would love to parade in their capital city, although he said that the institution recognised the “challenges” that may pose.
The Fianna Fail leader in the Seanad, Darragh O’Brien, said that he would like to see a day when there could be an Orange Order parade in Dublin “in a non-triumphalist way”.
Mr Nelson, who also accused republicans of “demonising” the Order and said that he wanted to see it work closer with the Irish government, received warm applause after his speech.
Mr Nelson said that Mary McAleese and her husband Martin had made yesterday possible by “opening up lines of communications” with the Order by inviting them to Aras an Uachtarain during her time as president.
The British Ambassador to Dublin, Dominick Chilcott, and the US Ambassador, Dan Rooney, watched on from the public gallery yesterday.
After the speech, the Orange delegation had a half-hour meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
News Letter political correspondent Sam McBride examines the detail of the landmark speech.
THE Orange Order has been used by many other groups and individuals for their own ends, the Institution’s Grand Secretary yesterday told Dublin’s Seanad.
Defining the Order’s ethos as “faith and fraternity”, Drew Nelson told Irish senators – who sit in the Seanad which, along with the Irish President and the Dail, makes up the Irish Oireachtas (National Parliament) – that Orangemen had been used by others throughout history but stressed that the Institution was keen to work closer with the Irish Government.
Speaking as Grand Master Edward Stevenson and other senior Orange figures looked on, Mr Nelson said that the first invitation to the Order to address the Republic’s Upper House was a recognition of its place in Irish society.
Mr Nelson, who referred throughout to the presiding officer by his official Irish name of Cathaoirleach, received prolonged warm applause when he finished speaking.
Explaining how Orangemen view the Institution, he said that the Order regarded King William III’s victory over King James II at the Boyne as “laying one of the cornerstones of civil and religious liberty — something that is still very relevant in the pluralist 21st century”.
Recounting how in 1797 Orangemen were encouraged by the army to join yeomanry companies which the following year would help suppress an Irish republican rebellion, Mr Nelson said: “Not for the last time, the Orange Order was used by others to protect their own interests. This has been a recurring theme of our organisation.”
Returning to that point later in his speech, Mr Nelson said: “As terrorism increased, the establishment came calling yet again in their hour of need.
“Army colonels toured Orange halls begging members of the Institution to join the Ulster Defence Regiment. Many thousands did and paid with their lives.
“Because I want to emphasise my point, I am going to say again that not for the first or last time the Orange Order was used by others.”
Mr Nelson highlighted that 336 Orangemen were murdered during the Troubles and stressed that he could not emphasise enough “the effect these murders have had on our Institution and the attitudes of our members”.
He went on: “Between 1969 and 1989, that is the first 20 years of the terrorist campaign, 11 Orange Halls were burnt.
“In the subsequent 22 years, a further 323 Orange halls have been burnt. These burnings continue and are, I believe, a direct result of the demonisation of the Orange Order by the republican movement.
“It is clear to us that in the late 1980s the republican movement decided to directly attack the Orange Institution. As well as burning these 334 halls, they also organised resistance to our parades.
“This resistance to parades continues to have a corrosive effect on community relations in Northern Ireland and, I believe, the potential to again explode onto the headlines.
“It also deeply affects the attitude of our members. As an Institution, we call for accommodation and tolerance, not segregation.”
Mr Nelson said that although the Irish Government had taken big strides in recent years to address the needs of its minority Protestant community, the long-standing Protestant fears of communal extinction had been “reinforced over the past few years because of the education cuts to Protestant schools, which are having a severe effect amongst the scattered border Protestant community”.
Mr Nelson proposed an Orange parade in Dublin, something which received support from some senior senators who spoke after his address.
The Grand Secretary said: “In the Republic we have about 20 parades each year.
“For the reasons, which we all understand, these parades have been pushed to the margins of society.
“There has not been an Orange Order parade in a major town in the Republic since before the Troubles. There was one planned in Dublin a few years ago but it was unable to proceed.
“Our members in the Republic would welcome the opportunity to hold a parade in their capital city. As an Institution we completely understand, however, the challenges which such a parade would pose.”
Mr Nelson said that “the Loyal Orange Institution wishes to move forward together with the Irish Government”, and added: “The Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master and our four County Grand Masters in the Republic of Ireland are all present here today to show their support for that commitment.”
See Morning View, page 18