PROTESTANT communities in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from a major initiative supported by European Union grant aid.
The funding — almost £900,000 — has been awarded to the Orange Order to help communities at sectarian interfaces and border areas which suffered disproportionately during the Troubles.
The Stepping Towards Reconciliation in Positive Engagement (Stripe) project will be based in Lurgan and is designed to address the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Drew Nelson, chairman of the Orange Community Network, said: “The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland believes there is an imbalance of weak community infrastructure, low confidence and low levels of participation within the Protestant community, particularly in interface and border areas in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“Grand Lodge also believes the Protestant community in interface and border areas had suffered disproportionately during the Troubles.”
The £884,022 was received from the Special EU Programmes Body. Project manager Dr Jonathan Mattison and his seven staff have been financed until December 2014.
DUP MEP Diane Dodds welcomed the announcement, saying: “This money will enable a major amount of work to be undertaken to help build capacity within the Protestant community in border areas who suffered so much during the course of Troubles.”
Mrs Dodds said the “legacy of that suffering and marginalisation” remains to this day, and added: “This is exactly the sort of project that should be getting the support of EU funding, one that takes cognisance of those who really suffered in Northern Ireland and is designed to bring about a better future.
“Funding such as this demonstrates there is still a need for continued EU support in Northern Ireland and is evidence of the need to have a strong voice in Europe.”
Senior Orangeman David McNarry said that the funding was “great news” for the Order. The independent Strangford MLA said: “This is deserved recognition of the good work already being done. But moreover, this is a clear indication of European financial support guaranteed to see that the work continues by the institution.
“It also presents an opportunity for the Orange to grow its confidence in these areas where previously the Order has never been given a chance to demonstrate in those communities its honourable stance for equal rights and equal opportunities.”