Today's meeting of the Orange Order’s governing body — the Grand Lodge — is expected to sanction the first direct communication between the institution and Sinn Fein.
The special meeting called to discuss marches is expected to approve a response to the Hillsborough deal’s proposals on disputed parade routes which will be sent to the Parades Working Group which includes Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly, John O’Dowd and Michelle Gildernew.
None of the six-member group is expected to attend the Grand Lodge gathering, although the DUP members — Jeffrey Donaldson, Nelson McCausland and Stephen Moutray — did debate issues surrounding parades with County Grand Lodge officers on Tuesday night.
Today’s meeting was arranged in November last year when it was expected Grand Lodge would be discussing the final report of the group set up under Lord Ashdown to examine possible solutions to parading disputes.
Instead it has only an interim report from Lord Ashdown to respond to but an imminent deadline to meet to let the DUP/Sinn Fein working group know what it thinks about the basic outline in the Hillsborough Deal.
Grand Lodge veterans predict that today’s meeting should last no longer than three hours and expect a clear response to be forwarded to the parades group on Tuesday indicating the Institution’s opposition to the DUP strategy outlined at Brownlow House.
On Thursday the First Minister and Deputy First Minister indicated the final proposals agreed between their two teams of negotiators may not be published which further limits the extent to which Grand Lodge can approve any outline given by the DUP team.
“Robinson and McGuinness are indicating now that they won’t be publishing their agreed outcome, if they reach one, so what is Grand Lodge supposed to give its
verdict on?” one delegate said last night.
“The brief outline in the Hillsborough paper hasn’t been favourably received within the Orange so I doubt Grand Lodge will be persuaded to change its stated policy of not speaking to residents’ groups.”
One possible speaker in favour of the proposals in the Hillsborough Deal is the Rev Mervyn Gibson who as a Deputy Grand Chaplain to the institution is entitled to attend today’s meeting.
The Rev Gibson, who is attached to the Ballymacarrett District in east Belfast, was appointed by First Minister Peter Robinson as an adviser to the Parades Working Group when it was set up.