Orange Order leaders have been told that Republican extremists who daubed part of a pre-Twelfth parade route in Co Donegal with IRA slogans do not represent the views of the vast majority of the local people.
Several thousand marchers on Saturday joined the only Orange Order parade in the Republic which passed along narrow country lanes to the seaside resort of Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal.
In a history-making gesture, Donegal County Council was officially represented at the event for the first time ever when county manager Michael McLoone was a special guest at a pre-parade lunch.
But Republican extremists marked their displeasure when they daubed IRA slogans over-night across the main street in the nearby village of Ballintra, where a local Orange Lodge held a short march before joining the main Rossnowlagh event.
Road signs were painted in Republican tricolours and paint-sprayed messages read “Brits out”, “F off”, and “No marching”.
Ballintra is the home village of Donegal County Orange Order Grand Master David Mahon.
Mr McLoone assured his hosts at the VIP lunch that the council was pleased to facilitate the Order at a local level as part of its contribution to “working through” the peace process. He said the Ballintra protest did not reflect the thinking of the people or authorities in the Republic.
Mr McLoone’s invitation was a direct result of a low-profile campaign by President Mary McAleese’s husband Martin to encourage ongoing communication between local authorities and the Orange Order in border counties.
Up to 12,000 supporters took part in or watched the Rossnowlagh march which ended with a religious service and rally in the sand dunes on the edge of Donegal Bay. Main speaker, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Grand Master Robert Saulter, noted that over the past three years the institution has been reaching out to people who “do not agree with our Protestantism”.
He paid tribute to the reception leaders of the Order receive when visiting government ministers and other politicians in the Republic.
The Irish government, through the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs recently helped fund a development officer to work on modernising Orange Order property.
Saturday’s event attracted Orangemen from across Northern Ireland as well as from Dublin and the border counties of Cavan, Leitrim and Monaghan and overseas.
Gardai said there was no trouble at the parade which was held in “a carnival atmosphere”.
More than 30 bands accompanied the marchers, many of whom will also take part in the main Twelfth celebrations today.