Former Irish President Mary McAleese says she would not rule out the possibility of the Orange Order parading through Dublin.
Originally from Ardoyne in North Belfast, she was speaking to the News Letter at the opening of the order’s new museum in east Belfast, where she was guest of honour.
The order has expressed an interest in doing so in the interests of a shared future and reconciliation.
Asked if she thought this would be feasible in the near future, she replied: “Who knows? I mean, the kind of future that we are planning is going to be so different from the past, if we make it happen. And all sorts of things become possible that would have been regarded as impossible, things that were regarded as intractable become tractable ... I just hope that the kind of future that we are planning holds open the prospect of all sorts of things that in the past seemed impossible, but that with generosity and respect can be made possible.”
Many people thought the Queen’s 2011 visit to Dublin and Prince Charles’ recent trip to Co Sligo would have been impossible, not to mention the visit of current Irish President Michael D Higgins to meet the Queen at Windsor, she added.
During the official opening on Wednesday, Mrs McAleese heaped fulsome praise on the Order’s new museum, emphasising that it is critical in fostering mutual understanding and a shared future across the island.
The £3.8m interpretative museum re-tells the story of the 1688 Glorious Revolution and subsequent battle between William of Orange and James II which culminated with the Dutch king defeating the Jacobean forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It goes on to illustrate how the order has developed and grown ever since.
Mrs McAleese said: “The culture of the Orange is not my culture but it is the culture of my neighbours and we who are the children of the Jacobites and the Williamites we share this space, we share this island,” she said.
“We haven’t always shared it happily with each other but we have decided that we want to share it happily for the future.
“So it’s important to be here because this place is built with a view, first of all, to celebrating Orange culture, but also of explaining it to a wider audience, opening up that culture so we don’t live in ignorance and mythology, but we do live with true understanding of each other.
“I like the spirit in which it is being offered – as a place that welcomes those who want to come to learn about the culture.”
During her visit she went on to give a television interview in fluent Irish in the replica lodge room in the museum.
The majority of the funding for the museum was made through EU’s PEACE III programme, which included contributions from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish government. The Grand Lodge of Ireland contributed £200,000.
Grand Lodge of Ireland’s director of services, Dr David Hume, said: “It was fantastic to see them here, it was really good they were here.”
He added: “I think it is important that they and other people who come from the nationalist community pass on the details and the message of what we have here and we are very much here to outreach to people and explain to people and to do so in a way which I believe is a very non-confrontational way.”
The museum is housed in the refurbished Schomberg House headquarters of the Orange Order on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton was also among invited guests.
Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Alban Maginness queried why the Irish tricolour was not one of eight flags flying outside the museum. The flags of Togo, Ghana, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and a Northern Ireland flag were present.
The order responded that the omission was because Orangemen in the Republic feel “culturally British”.