FULL TEXT: Grand Master’s Twelfth message

Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson
Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson

Over the past week, as Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, I attended both the annual Twelfth in Rossnowlagh and the ongoing protest by Ligoniel brethren at Twaddell Avenue in Belfast.

In Co Donegal, people of all denominations enjoyed the fraternity and family atmosphere, and the unique spectacle of an Orange parade, with only a limited Garda presence.

By comparison and in stark contrast, in north Belfast, an Orange procession is prohibited on a main arterial route due to the blatant intolerance of nationalists and republicans to our legitimate religious and cultural expression.

This is not only prominent in parts of our capital city, but across Northern Ireland, including Drumcree, Dunloy, Rasharkin, Dungiven, Pomeroy and Strabane.

It would seem that shared space is only shared by our opponents when we do not don an Orange collarette.

Why can we drive, cycle and walk along the arterial route of the Crumlin Road 364 days of the year without objection? Yet, when the individuals of three lodges partake in public witness with their banners they cannot parade along the same stretch of road. Six minutes of tolerance is all it will take.

It is evident the persistent threats of physical force protest, or indeed violence, from republicans has held a greater sway with an inept and weak Parades Commission.

We all remember too well the sight of a masked gunman, armed with an AK47, openly firing at police lines in Ardoyne in 2012.

It is clear the threat of the sniper has greater supremacy than the threat of an Orangeman, simply wishing to express his cultural heritage.

I would challenge the head of the commission, Anne Henderson, to come out of hiding; face the same media scrutiny that we as an Institution do, and publicly and openly justify the flawed decision-making process of the incompetent body she claims to chair.

Perhaps her silence over recent weeks is an indication that this shambolic body does not even have confidence in itself, never mind the broad unionist community. This was shamefully illustrated most recently by the embarrassing U-turn and climbdown at the behest of republicans, in Portadown.

The Parades Commission is in meltdown, losing all credibility in the process.

However, it is only through united unionist opposition that we can sound the final death knell of this farcical quango.

This is why the Orange Institution is fully supportive of the actions of our political leaders following the determination regarding the return Twelfth parade on the Crumlin Road.

We, as a Loyal Order, have outlined our intentions as part of the overall graduated response, and are fully committed to the rightful restoration of civil and religious liberty.

I would again reiterate that our actions must at all times be both peaceful and lawful. While violence may have closed the Crumlin Road to a dignified parade; conversely, it will not open the road either.

Members of the Orange Institution do not want division. We are stakeholders in this society and want to live in peace and harmony. We also want respect.

I would encourage the entire Orange and unionist family to come out in their tens of thousands today, and enjoy the pageantry and fraternity of our annual Battle of the Boyne celebratrions.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and glorious Twelfth.