Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Viewpoint: Signs of change in Twelfth speeches

No-one would expect the speeches from Orange platforms to offer whole-hearted backing for the new deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein, but yesterday they demonstrated a high level of scepticism.

Although it has been a generally peaceful Twelfth, thanks to valuable community work on both sides of the divide, the Orange Order remains to be convinced that republicans are democrats, worthy of places in government.

That was the thrust of the political resolution passed at yesterday's demonstrations, watching "with interest" the developing political situation and expressing "grave reservations" about Sinn Fein's presence in government.

Yet even the fact that such a conservative-minded organisation is prepared to wait and see, rather than oppose, is progress. It will judge by results, whatever its fears.

There will always be those who feel more strongly than others that unionists have chosen the wrong path, however, and Jim Allister, MEP, who quit the DUP in protest at the Stormont deal, delivered a stinging Eleventh night attack on Ian Paisley. A year ago the DUP leader had said a deal would be done over his dead body, but now he is First Minister, with Martin McGuinness, ex-IRA, as Deputy.

What Mr Allister omitted to mention, of course, was that, in the interim, the IRA had not only disposed of its arms but republicans had agreed to support the PSNI and sit on the Policing Board.

All has changed utterly, on both sides, and the majority of unionists - and probably Orange supporters - are prepared to see how the power-sharing executive performs.

At the same time, the reservations expressed by many Orange leaders show that constant reassurance will be needed to prove that republicans are not carrying on their "war" by other means.

One speaker claimed that a "cultural war" was being waged against unionism, including three attacks on Orange halls in less than a week, and another challenged what he called the "institutional exclusion" of loyalists, since direct rule.

Having lost 311 members during the IRA campaign, including more than 90 in Co Tyrone, the Order is bound to have doubts about the transformation of terrorists into democrats.

Nevertheless, the way that the politicians are co-operating, and accepting responsibility for the whole community, must affect the attitude of the Order and its members in future.

Positive steps, like the withdrawal of a paramilitary presence at 11th night bonfires, new contacts over parades and the removal of offensive murals, have all contributed to a better atmosphere.

The 2007 Twelfth could well be remembered as a turning point.

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