GAA star says Orange hall attacks ‘like KKK’

Ballytyrone Orange Hall in Loughgall was extensively damaged in a suspected arson attack last week
Ballytyrone Orange Hall in Loughgall was extensively damaged in a suspected arson attack last week

A former Armagh GAA captain has urged Irish republicans to “cherish all the children of the nation equally” after yet another attack on an Orange hall.

Jarlath Burns, principal of St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, was speaking after attacks on Orange halls in Rasharkin and Loughgall in recent days.

Jarlath Burns (centre), speaks to Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and Mervyn Storey MLA, Social Development Minister, at the opening of the new Musuem of Orange Heritage, Sloan's House, Loughgall

Jarlath Burns (centre), speaks to Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and Mervyn Storey MLA, Social Development Minister, at the opening of the new Musuem of Orange Heritage, Sloan's House, Loughgall

Last week he took pupils from his school to visit the reopening of refurbished Orange museums in Belfast and Loughgall.

Speaking about the Loughgall arson attack, he said he has been on his “own journey” but noted that Northern Ireland is “a very small community”.

“Everyone here is more or less the same – Christian apparently – they should not have the need for an identity crisis. We have all been given assurances on our identity.”

Attacks on the culture of others illustrates “insecurity” he said.

“The burning down of Orange lodges is akin to something done by the Nazis or Ku Klux Klan. But Irish republicans are supposed to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’.”

He added: “Republicans should be giving everyone the freedom to express themselves in religious, political and civic terms.

“A typical Orange hall will contain a lot of history, maybe sashes that belonged to someone’s grandfather, or an iconic banner that dates back generations.

“They are literally burning down history.”

He likened such attacks to widespread ISIS destruction of ancient artefacts in Syria.

“My life is GAA and education, so when people say proudly that they will never go to a GAA match it is very offensive to me.

“People need to understand that the GAA I know is not a threat to anyone. And likewise they need to understand that the Orange Order is not a threat to anyone.”

The welcome he received at the reopening of the Loughgall Orange museum last week was “almost exhilarating” and it was “almost an indictment” on him that he had never before visited the surrounding Protestant areas of his native Co Armagh, he said.

Last week he hit out at those who complained that an Irish tricolour was not flown at the reopening of the Belfast Orange musuem.

“Why would we ever expect to see an Irish tricolour outside the headquarters of the Orange Order? We wouldn’t expect to see a Union Flag at a GAA match. Those things would be very difficult for people to accept,” he said.

The school Mr Burns leads, St Paul’s High School, has “brilliant” relations with the state Newtownhamilton High School in south Armagh, he said.

“We understand that they remember the Tullyvallen and Kingsmills shootings and that we are a Catholic school in south Armagh. I want them to know that this school is a welcoming place for them and we want to understand what it is to be Protestant in south Armagh and what it was like for their parents and grandparents to live here.”

He said the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall in 2012, which precipitated street protests across the country, could have been handled very differently.

“We should have said ‘look we did not realise how much it means to you, put it back up’ and unionists might have replied ‘no keep it down, we did not know how offensive it was to you’.”

Also read: Hostility to Order ‘plays into attacks’

And: DUP man calls for flag removal