The Orange Order has defended its role in helping address educational under-achievement among young working class Protestants.
Rev Mervyn Gibson was commenting after some nationalist representatives claimed it would not be appropriate for the Education Authority (EA) to seek assistance from the institution.
The row was sparked by Labour MP Stephen Hepburn during a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster on Wednesday.
Mr Hepburn – who attended the Twelfth celebrations in Maguiresbridge two years ago – asked a member of the EA what it was doing to engage the Orange Order in education.
“When I look at their marches you’ve got kids that size and you’ve got boys and girls in their teens...surely if these Orange Orders can inspire young people to dress up so smart and look so great and be so proud, they can inspire them to try a bit harder at school?” he said.
However, SDLP councillor Brian Heading yesterday dismissed the suggestion as “ludicrous and ignorant”.
He said: “Mr Hepburn clearly knows very little about our divided past here if this is his answer to our problem. When was the last time he visited or was here on the 12th July? Likewise, the unprecedented crisis schools are facing here cannot be fixed with merely encouraging pupils to ‘try harder.’”
Speaking on yesterday’s BBC Talkback programme, Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said Mr Hepburn knows “nothing whatsoever about this place,” and added: “I think the less the Orange Order has to do with educating young people the better. It’s just a silly suggestion and no one is going to take it seriously.”
Rev Gibson said one of his main goals since joining the institution has been “raising the culture of education and raising the value of education,”
He added: “We are already involved in education. We have a full-time education officer, we have schools visit our museums quite regularly from all sectors and we engage with them. Everybody in their own community has a role in raising educational attainment, but I think the Orange Order has a particular role within the Protestant community to do this.”