Orange Order letter to the Secretary of State

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Open letter to Theresa Villiers

Dear Secretary of State,

On 23 December 2014, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness announced there would be no parading panel formed to examine the history and circumstances concerning the current parades impasse in north Belfast.

You, as Secretary of State, who had previously publicly stated you would be forming such a panel, confirmed this, although did not see fit to share your decision with any of the Unionist groupings who had called for an independent inquiry into the situation.

You tried to justify your actions by stating there was ‘insufficient support on the ground’ for such a panel and quoted one local lodge as not being in favour of it. The facts, however, are somewhat different.

Every Unionist political party sought the panel and were committed to giving it a fair wind. You were advised of this fact by the First Minister Peter Robinson, on behalf of the Unionist coalition.

One constituent element of the Unionist collective, the UPRG were opposed to the panel, a position recognised by the wider group, and a local lodge had also expressed a similar opinion through a press statement.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, however, supported the political parties in the request for the formation of the panel.

So what really changed your mind? The only Unionist party spoken to by your officials were UKIP, who were adamant in their support of establishing a panel.

You made no contact with the Orange Institution at any level, so it is apparent you used the press statement by Ballysillan LOL 1891 alone to justify your U-turn.

Indeed, the statement by the lodge was released on 2 December 2014, yet over two weeks later (on the 19 December) senior Unionist politicians were still briefing on advice from yourself that a panel would be announced before Christmas.

The only plausible explanation for the U-turn is that it resulted from a side deal with republicans during talks leading to the so-called Stormont House Agreement.

How else would Mr McGuinness have known, when no Unionist was aware of the decision?

Insufficient support from republicans/nationalists again outweighed the overwhelming support of Unionists.

Sinn Fein again called the shots and the British Government acquiesced to their demands (just like the OTR letters).

Sadly, Secretary of State, the Orange Institution are used to this attitude from you.

You frequently lecture us that the only way to achieve what we seek - fair and equitable parading legislation - is that agreement must be reached with Sinn Fein, thereby providing them with a veto on progress. You simply fail to see the logic.

Why would republicans and nationalists agree to new legislation, or see progress, when the status quo favours their agenda?

In other words, you, as the British Government’s representative in Northern Ireland offer those from the Unionist tradition no hope of change. Yet a foreign Government, that of the Republic of Ireland, openly supports the republican/nationalist stance on parading issues.

Your stance is not neutral, but rather supportive of the republican/nationalist position of the status quo, with a built in veto.

In one seedy side deal you have confirmed this, and:

• Broken your word to Unionist politicians

• Treated the leaders of Unionism with utter contempt.

• Illustrated that where people were encouraged to seek a political resolution - politics has failed them.

• Ensured ongoing protests regarding the situation in respect of the Ligoniel lodges.

• Confirmed that the Government still seeks to appease those who openly advocate the destruction of Northern Ireland.

The Orange Institution at the beginning of January met the party leaders of the DUP, UUP, TUV, UKIP, PUP and members of the UPRG, all of whom assure us of their full commitment to seeing the parades issue resolved in a just and equitable manner and the Ligoniel lodges return home.

However, the question has to be asked directly of you, Secretary of State, as parading is not a devolved matter, where exactly do we go from here?

If you continue to treat the Unionist people and their political representatives in the manner you have handled the north Belfast parading panel issue, there will be no progress on many issues.

As you personally took the decision to kill off this initiative – you must now outline your proposed way forward as a matter of urgency.

Edward Stevenson

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland