Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, visited the headquarters of the Orange Institution in Belfast today.
As well as enjoying a tour of the Museum of Orange Heritage, the Irish Prime Minister met with the leadership of the Loyal Order, including senior Orangemen from the Republic.
Mr Varadkar also paid his respects at a memorial window in tribute to 336 members of the Loyal Order who were murdered during the course of the Troubles.
The Taoiseach was welcomed to the Cregagh Road headquarters by the Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson.
He said: “We are very pleased to welcome the Taoiseach to the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast. We acknowledge this is a significant moment; as it is the first time a serving leader of the Republic of Ireland government has visited the headquarters of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.
“As a cross-border organisation, we welcome the Taoiseach’s direct engagement with our members based in the border counties of the Republic and in so doing, recognising the longstanding cultural identity of the Orange family in the south.
“It is also important to acknowledge the importance of the Taoiseach paying his respects to those members of our Institution, many of whom served in the security forces, who were murdered by terrorists. Such a gesture should not be underestimated and will, I believe, be deeply appreciated by many relatives of the deceased, and the Orange membership as a whole.”
Mr Stevenson said he looked forward to the Institution building on its longstanding working relationship with the Irish Government, allowing for ongoing representation on matters relating to the Orange fraternity in the Republic.
Commenting on the Taoiseach’s proposal, made during his visit, to further develop an educational exchange scheme involving school pupils from the Republic visiting the Orange museum, Mr Stevenson added: “This announcement today can only lead to a better understanding, by all those who live on the island of Ireland, of the cultural heritage and traditions of Orangeism; its history; and its continuing relevance in modern society. Our next step will be continuing our meaningful engagement with the Irish Government on this, and other matters of mutual interest.”
To mark his visit, Mr Varadkar was presented with a Galway Crystal replica of the Boyne Obelisk. The monument once stood at the site of the Battle of the Boyne in Co Meath, until it was destroyed in 1923.
The Taoiseach also signed the visitors’ book before departing.