Belfast Telegraph

SF MLA Declan Kearney in fresh call for talks with Orange Order

By Brett Campbell

A Sinn Fein MLA has called for "genuine dialogue" with the Orange Order and warned that unionism is being undermined by a failure of leadership.

Declan Kearney made the plea as he slammed former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland for deliberately propagating a "false narrative" that Sinn Fein is prejudiced against Orange culture.

The appeal for dialogue also came after the grand secretary of the Orange Order ruled out a meeting between Sinn Fein and Orangemen for at least a generation.

"We need a real and meaningful discussion about how we can share a vision for the future and build towards reconciliation," Mr Kearney writes in today's Belfast Telegraph.

"A good start would be to start a genuine dialogue between Sinn Fein and Orange Order."

The South Antrim MLA penned the response to Mr McCausland's commentary in the July 12 edition of this newspaper, which he used to hit out at Sinn Fein and the SDLP for demonstrating "prejudice" against the Order.

Mr McCausland, who lost his seat in the 2017 Assembly election, claimed that "outrage" expressed by both parties each time an Orange hall secures money from the public purse stands in "marked contrast" to nationalist support for Irish language centres funded by the Treasury.

The former Culture Minister also called on Sinn Fein representatives to let their actions speak louder than their words when it comes to equality and respect.

"A 'shared and better future' has to involve a place for the Orange family and the Orange tradition," Mr McCausland wrote.

He also insisted that such respect must result in the "mainstreaming" of Orange heritage as part of Northern Ireland's cultural wealth.

But Mr Kearney accused the veteran DUP man of "deliberately and falsely" misrepresenting Sinn Fein's position, which he said has consistently acknowledged Orange culture as a deeply rooted "integral part" of our shared history.

"I said most recently at our ard fheis that Orange culture, the unionist political tradition and British identity are part of our shared history," he writes.

"Sinn Fein believes they should be central to the fabric of a new Ireland."

Mr Kearney also accused senior leaders within political unionism and the Orange Order of deliberately choosing to ignore facts and to brand equality as a loss for unionists in order to stoke fear and mistrust.

"Campaigning for Irish language rights is maliciously distorted as cultural warfare, rather than parity of esteem," he says.

Mr Kearney, who condemned an attack on an Orange hall in Crumlin last Thursday, warned that sectarian hate crime and the scenes of violence which marked the Twelfth must become a thing of the past.

He also blamed dominant figures in the DUP for a lack of progress.

On Friday Orange grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson said there was "not a remote possibility" of the Order meeting Sinn Fein.

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

Rev Gibson said it will not happen until Sinn Fein representatives "stop attending events that glorify murder".

Belfast Telegraph

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