Belfast Telegraph

Orangemen won't meet Sinn Fein 'for at least a generation'

By Brett Campbell

A senior Orangeman has ruled out the possibility of the Order meeting with Sinn Fein for at least a generation.

Grand secretary the Rev Mervyn Gibson said in his speech at a Twelfth demonstration in Newcastle that the institution needed to change with the times and recognise the political realities.

But yesterday he said there was "not a remote possibility" that the organisation will meet with Sinn Fein.

"Maybe in a generation's time or two generations' time, but certainly not this generation," he said.

Rev Gibson argued any such meeting would be disrespectful to the memory of the 335 members and one woman murdered - mostly by the IRA - during the Troubles, and would also go against the unanimous position of the Orange Order.

"We have demonstrated change in forming strong relationships with the Republic of Ireland and the Catholic Church, but meeting Sinn Fein would be a step too far," he said.

"It would cause enormous hurt and pain to victims."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently paid a visit to Orange Order headquarters in east Belfast.

Rev Gibson refused to outline what republicans would need to do for the Orange Order to officially engage with them.

"I wouldn't want to make a list of hoops that they need to jump through, but we will know when the time is right," he added.

"It will not be until we see Sinn Fein move away from its terrorist past through actions and not just words.

"It will be when Sinn Fein representatives stop attending events to glorify and commemorate murder, because every time they do that it poses another set-back."

Earlier this year Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald expressed a desire to make a "big gesture" to unionists by meeting with the Orange Order, but her offer was quickly rejected.

On Thursday Rev Gibson said the institution must be "fit for purpose in this and future generations" and told members that the world was a different place than it was in 1795.

It led to speculation that he might be softening his stance, but he has now ruled out an historic meeting within his lifetime.

"What I meant was that we need to change our methods of delivery not change the message itself," he said. "We have to change how we do things if we are to tap into a world of potential, and that includes embracing modern technology."

Rev Gibson said the Order intends to develop its relationship with the Republic, in particular regarding tourism initiatives.

Victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson said he believed Mr Gibson's position was not unreasonable.

"The victims community is the only constituency not to have been couched in by Sinn Fein's choreographed words aimed only at proving its diversity credentials," he said. "Every time they have been praised for reaching out they go back to their base and engage in the language of glorification, which causes tremendous hurt to victims."

Mr Donaldson accused Sinn Fein of playing political games to appease "two trains of thought" on different sides of the border.

"There needs to be a watershed moment where they renounce and stop legitimising violence - only then can they can be engaged with in any meaningful way," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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