EXTRACT FROM SPEECH MADE BY THE GRAND MASTER OF THE GRAND ORANGE LODGE OF IRELAND, EDWARD STEVENSON, AT THE ROSSNOWLAGH TWELFTH
It is always a pleasure and a privilege to return to the Atlantic Ocean coastline for undoubtedly the most serene and scenic annual Orange demonstration.
The large numbers both participating and lining the route today, many having travelled long distances, confirms the special resonance the Rossnowlagh Twelfth continues to have for the entire Orange fraternity as we celebrate our proud cultural heritage.
There is no better prelude than this wonderful occasion to our yearly Battle of the Boyne celebrations this month. I would like to pay tribute to the brethren of County Donegal Grand Lodge for their tireless efforts once again, in organising and hosting a terrific event, which culminates in our Christian fellowship here today.
As we look forward to the 17 Twelfth demonstrations across Northern Ireland next weekend, we are also mindful of recent political developments following another disastrous decision by the Parades Commission regarding our brethren in Ligoniel, Belfast.
This followed on from the shambolic and ludicrous determination preventing Orangemen from dedicating an arch in memory of an esteemed past member in Portadown.
Grand Lodge is fully supportive of the united graduated response by unionism to this latest constraint on our legitimate cultural expression and traditions.
Numerous other parades across Northern Ireland, as we know, also face continuing intransigent and deliberate opposition by republicans.
We cannot underestimate the seriousness of the situation but there is no doubt that unionism is stronger when it is united and speaking with one voice.
I have called an emergency meeting of all County Grand Masters and District Masters from all over Northern Ireland to inform them of our course of action and our engagement with the leaders of unionism. This will take place over the coming days.
I would also reiterate my appeal, and that of the Institution, for any associated protests to be both lawful and peaceful. Violence should not prevail.
The Orange Institution in the Republic continues to thrive, and earlier this year I had the honour of re-opening Ballintra Orange hall following major refurbishment. Such facilities offer a social lifeline, particularly in rural communities, in the border counties and, indeed, are used as meeting places by numerous other organisations and community groups.
Orangemen and women have consistently demonstrated they want to play a full role in the civic society of this country.
Conversely, we also want those in the corridors of power in Dublin to recognise and value the contribution of the minority Protestant community to wider society in the Republic of Ireland.
Two years ago, our Grand Secretary Drew Nelson made a landmark and historic speech in the Irish Senate in Dublin. In a thoughtful and candid address, Mr Nelson spoke of the challenges facing all of us as we move forward together, and despite the horror of the sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism, underlined the Orange Institution’s genuine desire to see a normalisation of relationships on these islands.
No more so was this illustrated by the momentous state visit of Her Majesty the Queen, here to the Republic in 2011. During her trip, the Queen visited sites of significance to Irish nationalism including the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park in Dublin. Such gestures of reconciliation were hugely symbolic and carried out by Her Majesty with great decorum and respect.
It is against this backdrop, and from this platform today, that I publically invite the President of the Republic of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, to join us and witness for himself next year the colour and spectacle of the only Twelfth demonstration in this jurisdiction.
You will be made most welcome here in Rossnowlagh, President Higgins, and I trust you will accept the genuine invitation in the spirit of good will and neighbourliness in which it is intended.
In your inaugural speech, you spoke of a “common shared future built on the spirit of co-operation”, about “equality” and “respect for all”.
What better way to make such words a reality by reaching out in a hand of friendship to the minority Protestant community in the Republic; the symbolism of which would have positive ramifications beyond the boundaries of County Donegal.
In the short term, Grand Lodge continues to lobby strenuously at every opportunity regarding cuts to Protestant education in the Republic.
Indeed, I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has raised our concerns directly with the Irish Government in correspondence with the outgoing minister for education and skills, Ruairi Quinn. This is to be welcomed.
We will continue to monitor the situation and would commend the work of SOCKS (Save Our Colleges, Keep our Schools) who have been at the forefront of this important campaign.
On this matter and others I can assure members of the Institution in the border counties and beyond you will always be guaranteed the unstinting support of your peers in Northern Ireland. You are vital and valued members of the wider Orange family and always will be.
Once again, I congratulate everyone involved behind the scenes in making this such a magnificent day when we can celebrate the traditions that are so important to us.