Belfast Telegraph

Orange Order 'has 335 reasons not to meet Sinn Fein'

By Claire O'Boyle

The Orange Order has refused to meet Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald.

Grand secretary Mervyn Gibson said it was not in a position to meet the republican party's new leader out of respect for brethren murdered by the IRA.

Rev Gibson made the comments to the Belfast Telegraph after Ms McDonald said she wanted to make a "big gesture" to unionists.

The Sinn Fein president said she felt "liberated" as leader, and said meeting representatives from the organisation would be a "positive" move.

"I think for Sinn Fein to meet officially with the Orange Order - what harm can it do?

"I think these discussions and these dialogues, at a minimum, achieve the very positive thing of people showing the respect to each other, of sitting down with each other."

However, Rev Gibson rejected the suggestion.

"We would not be in a position, nor would we wish to, meet the president of Sinn Fein at this point," he said.

"There are 335 reasons why not - 335 of our murdered brethren that would stop us.

"The hurt caused to those families, one in 10 of the people murdered by republicans through the Troubles were our brethren, and that hurt is still real. The families' wishes would be paramount, so we certainly wouldn't be in any position to meet her at present."

In an interview with the Sunday Business Post, Ms McDonald also said she would consider having two parliaments on the island of Ireland if it helped achieve reunification.

The prospect, which would see an Assembly in Northern Ireland work along with the Dail in Dublin, is unlikely to satisfy many republicans, most of whom would like to see the back of Stormont.

The Sinn Fein leader said: "It's at a point now where people can intervene and say: 'Hang on a minute, this is what we think, or let's consider this'. I think all of those ideas - I'm not going to discount or rule out anything because that is not the way you have an open or respectful conversation with people."

The TD, who took over the top job after Gerry Adams stood down seven weeks ago, said she is working towards a referendum on unity.

She said: "I want us to win that referendum. But crucially, I want us to win that referendum in an atmosphere of respect and maximising consensus. We have to have a very, very broad mind.

"That's going to be a bit of a challenge for some within nationalism and some within republicanism: to say that many of the things that people hold dear, we may have to go and have a conversation about again."

Ms McDonald said the fact things had grown increasingly polarised in the absence of power-sharing in Northern Ireland was not good for anybody.

She said: "That bothers me, that worries me. That's not good for anybody. I think, at times like this, you have to lead from the front. You have to say that polarisation isn't good and you have to set about doing something about it."

She talked down any "shadow Assembly", branding such a set-up as litle more than a "talking shop" without power.

Belfast Telegraph

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