Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order chief makes Dublin parade plea

By Lyndsey Telford

A senior member of the Orange Order has appealed to the Irish Government for permission to parade in Dublin.

Grand secretary Drew Nelson, who made history today when he became the first member of the organisation to address the Republic's parliament, said Ireland would be a poorer place if the order's cultural heritage disappeared.

He also suggested the State had failed to look after Protestant communities in the border counties compared to the way the British Government looked after Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Mr Nelson told senators in the upper house that one of the order's main goals was to improve north-south relations by holding parades in the Republic.

"There was one planned in Dublin a few years ago but it was unable to proceed," Mr Nelson said.

"Our members in the Republic would welcome the opportunity to hold a parade in their capital city."

About 20 Orange Order parades take place in the Republic every year but none in a major city.

The only attempt to hold a major demonstration in Dublin - the Love Ulster march in 2006 - was abandoned after hundreds of protesters opposed to the Orange march rioted on the streets of Dublin.

Mr Nelson said the institution completely understands the challenges such a parade would pose.

"This institution and the bands which we support are the guardians of part of the intangible cultural heritage of not only Northern Ireland but also the Republic of Ireland," he said.

"I believe that Ireland would be a poorer place if that cultural heritage disappeared."

On the issue of falling Protestant populations in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan Mr Nelson said the dwindled numbers compared to growing Catholic communities north of the border.

"This of course begs the question as to which state looked after its minority better," said Mr Nelson.

"Many of our members from the minority Protestant community in the border counties of this state have spoken to me over the years of the communal uncertainty of their survival as a viable self-sustaining community."

He said many of them have spoken of their "fear of incurring the displeasure" of the State in any way - not necessarily a fear of violence.

The grand secretary, a key player for years in the Orange Order hierarchy, said it was important the Government is aware of the issue.

Mr Nelson also condemned recent sectarian attacks on Orange Order halls, which he described as the "demonisation" of the organisation by some members of the Republican movement.

He said continued resistance to the order's parades, including its annual Twelfth of July demonstrations across Northern Ireland, has a corrosive effect on Catholic-Protestant relations.

Mr Nelson called for accommodation and tolerance - not segregation.

In his address to the Seanad, the grand secretary also thanked Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who invited him to the Irish Parliament to make his historic address.

He likened the gesture to that of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland last year - when she became the first British monarch in over 100 years to visit the southern counties of Ireland.

"Together let us resolve that no longer will the burden of history stand in the way of normalisation of relationships," Mr Nelson added.

Mr Nelson responded to remarks from senators, including Sinn Fein's David Cullinane, through the chairman. The Orange Order does not speak directly to Sinn Fein.

But Mr Cullinane claimed the historic Seanad speech gave him an opportunity to address a member of the lodge directly.

In his groundbreaking address, Mr Nelson appealed for the Irish Government to continue to support Protestant schools in Ireland.

He said communities, particularly those in the border counties, live in fear for their continued survival in the face of cuts to Church of Ireland and other Protestant schools, which do not fall under state control.

"The Protestant community actually fears for its continued survival as a viable, self-sustaining community," said Mr Nelson.

"I appeal to you today to take whatever steps are within your power to address that issue and reassure our members living in the border counties."

Senator Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary McAleese, told Mr Nelson of his fear as a Catholic child growing up in Loyalist east Belfast and watching Orange Order parades.

He said he hated the marching season and felt threatened as part of the minority community, but recent cross-community co-operation between himself and Mr Nelson had helped him develop an appreciation for the order's heritage.

Meanwhile, Seanad chairman Paddy Burke said Mr Nelson's presence in the chamber was an example of progress made between the north and south.

He said he had little awareness of the Orange Order as a child having grown up in rural Ireland, and therefore believed the organisation to be "far removed" and "irrelevant" to Irish life.

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