The Orange Institution wants to see a prosperous and peaceful Northern Ireland where all traditions and cultures are valued and respected.
That was the message from the organisation’s Grand Secretary, Rev Mervyn Gibson, as he addressed brethren at the Twelfth demonstration in Newcastle.
Crowds lined the streets to see around 6,000 Orange Order members and 70 bands parade through the picturesque Co Down town.
In a break from tradition, Orangemen and bands from Mourne District joined with their peers from Castlewellan, Ballynahinch, Lecale, Saintfield and Comber.
Numbers were also swelled with the participation of Orangemen from Coventry in England, guests from Ontario in Canada and the biggest individual private lodge, Ballyvea LOL 343a, which boasts in excess of 160 members.
Among the special guests at the event was highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano soloist Emma Brown, who performed during the platform proceedings.
Addressing brethren in Donard Park, Rev Gibson spoke about the importance of the Orange Institution adapting to change and being “fit for purpose” in the years ahead.
“The world in which the Orange Institution exists today is different from the world our forefathers lived in when they formed this institution in 1795. It’s different from the Ireland of 1912 our grandparents lived in when they signed the Ulster Covenant. It’s different to the Northern Ireland we knew growing up prior to the Troubles in 1969,” he said.
“The political reality of this country today would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. But we are where we are. We live and work in the world today; not yesterday, our future starts from here.
“There is no point in fighting yesterday’s battles today because it doesn’t change things. It is futile to use strategies and tactics we once used in another time to deal with the difficulties and opposition we face today.
“The Orange Institution needs to be an organisation that is fit for purpose in this and future generations – fit to defend and promote all we hold dear – our faith, our heritage and our British citizenship.
“For too long we allowed others to set the agenda and we responded – and there were good reasons for our response. However, the time is right to accept the challenges that change has brought about, it’s not change that we necessarily like but it’s where we are. We have to deal with realities and not how we would like it to be.”
Stressing that unionists won’t be bribed, cajoled or frightened into a united Ireland, Rev Gibson continued: “History has shown our resolve to defend our religion and laws. It has shown the length we are prepared to go to remain British. British we were born and British we will remain.
“How we defend and promote these faith and political truths requires new thinking, new tactics and new alliances.
“The principles and message remain the same, but how we defend and promote them needs to be made fit for purpose in a world that would be unrecognisable to our fathers and mothers, let alone our grandfathers and grandmothers.
“The Grand Lodge seeks to position the institution to address the challenges we face and respond positively to the opportunities change presents.”
He added: “I believe the Orange Institution is in a good place, we are moving forward; we are adapting to changes in society, without compromising our beliefs. We continue to play an active and positive role in civic society.
“The Orange Institution wants to see a prosperous and peaceful Northern Ireland where all traditions and cultures are valued and respected.”
Neil Holmes, secretary of Castlewellan District LOL No 12, added: “The crowds were three or four deep on every inch of the route. It was a great day.”