Leo Varadkar has backed the possibility of a parade by the Orange Order through the streets of Dublin, saying that it is something that he would be “happy” to see.
The News Letter put to the taoiseach the words of veteran Dublin Orangeman Winston Smith, a former Trinity College Dublin librarian who two years ago spoke to The Irish Times about the significance of the Orange Order to individuals such as himself.
Mr Smith, then in his 70s, told the paper that a procession on Dublin’s Dawson Street, past a plaque commemorating the first Orange grand lodge meeting in 1798, would show monumental progress.
He said: “We want to try and have a parade sometime as a stepping stone”, adding that the order “will feel accepted if Orangemen will be allowed to hold a parade in Ireland in their own capital city”.
When those words were put to Mr Varadkar and he was asked if he would support such a parade in the Irish capital, he said of the Orange Order: “They do parade in Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal ... I would be happy to see Orangemen being able to express their cultural identity in Dublin through a march if they wanted to do so and that’s something that I would certainly respect.”
Referring to the Orange Order’s strong links to Dublin and Sir Edward Carson having been born in the city, Mr Varadkar said: “There would have been a lot of Orange lodges in Dublin and Wicklow at a time – and all over the country – so if we’re serious about respecting each other’s identities, each other’s values; if we’re serious about parity of esteem, it’s not the sort of thing you can pick and choose.”
Seven years ago, during a ground-breaking speech to the Seanad, the then Orange grand secretary Drew Nelson said that Orangemen in the Republic would love to parade in their capital city, although he said that the institution recognised the “challenges” that may pose.
The Fianna Fail leader in the Seanad, Darragh O’Brien, responded that he would like to see a day when there could be an Orange Order parade in Dublin “in a non-triumphalist way”.
Mr Nelson, whose speech was greeted with warm applause, told senators: “In the Republic we have about 20 parades each year. For the reasons, which we all understand, these parades have been pushed to the margins of society.
“There has not been an Orange Order parade in a major town in the Republic since before the Troubles. There was one planned in Dublin a few years ago but it was unable to proceed.
“Our members in the Republic would welcome the opportunity to hold a parade in their capital city. As an institution we completely understand, however, the challenges which such a parade would pose.”
However, in response to the taoiseach’s support for a Dublin parade, Mr Nelson’s successor as grand secretary, the Rev Mervyn Gibson, last night sounded more cautious.
He said: “The Orange brethren who reside in the Republic of Ireland, as Leo Varadkar points out, parade in Rossnowlagh each year. They currently have no plans for a parade in Dublin.
“There needs to be a purpose to any planned parade – such as a commemoration, celebration or parading to a church service. The Orange Institution does not simply parade for the sake of it.”
And, although some Dublin Orangemen want to parade through central Dublin, not all agree.
Chris Thackaberry, a middle-aged Dublin Orangeman who travels to Belfast to march on the Twelfth, told the News Letter that Orangeism was about more than simply “a parading culture”.
Emphasising that he was speaking in a personal capacity, he said: “As a Dublin Orangeman, I have no interest in parading in my city. Because of our county structure, Co Cavan and the wider border counties have made no move in that direction.
“Furthermore the focus for Dublin Orangemen is in highlighting the Orange heritage that can be found in the roots of Irish society through the arts and politics.”
He added: “As Dublin Orangemen and custodians of Orange heritage in the city and the Republic we get no support from state bodies ... this week is heritage week – what better opportunity to have our hall opened for view and discussion?
“But no interest from the city council. If the taoiseach and his government really wanted to involve and engage Orange heritage then they would engage it at ground level.”