Lord Trimble has voiced support for Simon Hamilton after the prominent Orange Order member defied an Institution ban by attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral.
Former DUP minister Mr Hamilton breached the Order’s rules when he joined his party leader Arlene Foster at the Catholic church service in Londonderry on Thursday.
His attendance raised questions over whether any disciplinary hearing will be convened – in similar fashion to the panel that summoned Ulster Unionists Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy to explain their attendance at the funeral mass of murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr in 2011.
Former Ulster Unionist leader and first minister Lord Trimble was also threatened with expulsion from the Orange Order in 1998 after he attended the funeral masses of two Omagh bomb victims.
In all three cases no further action was taken.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Lord Trimble said Simon Hamilton “didn’t do anything that Edward Carson or James Craig hadn’t done beforehand”.
Lord Trimble said: “I never came under any criticism from any Orangeman that I ever knew.
“But there is a bigger point to make. People like Edward Carson and James Craig, who ought to be regarded as absolutely iconic in terms of the history of unionism, they had no hesitation in going to funerals. Where it was appropriate, for them they had no hesitation.”
He added: “If you are in doubt, just ask yourself ‘what is the decent thing to do?’”
Speaking to the BBC Spotlight programme in 2011, Lord Trimble said that it was “absolutely clear” to him after the Omagh bomb that he should attend the funeral services taking place within weeks of him becoming first minister.
“There are circumstances where it is one’s duty as a human being, as a Christian – indeed even as a politician – to go to services in other churches,” he said.
Mrs Foster was warmly applauded by the congregation as she entered the packed Long Tower chapel in Londonderry, along with Mr Hamilton, for the funeral on Thursday.
Both Mr Elliott and Mr Kennedy were UUP MLAs when they attended the funeral of murdered PSNI constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh. Their attendance led to a formal complaint by St Simon’s Orange Lodge based in the Sandy Row area of south Belfast, however, it was determined the pair had no case to answer. Neither Mr Elliott nor Mr Kennedy was prepared to comment on the DUP man’s attendance at Martin McGuinness’s funeral.
The Orange Order has also declined to comment.
In October last year, the then Orange Order assistant grand master Rev Mervyn Gibson said he would support a lifting of the ban on members attending Catholic services.
Rev Gibson, who has since succeeded the late Drew Nelson as the Order grand secretary, told the BBC’s Talkback programme that the rule “harked back to a different era”.
He said: “That’s a rule that the order has – we are a democratic organisation, so if someone feels they want to change that rule it can be proposed, debated and voted on.”
He also told the programme that some members of the Orange Order do attend the funerals and weddings of Catholic friends – but not always entering the chapel for the service.