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SF launches bid to reach out to unionists

By Victoria O'Hara

A new initiative aimed at reaching out to the unionist community was due to be launched by Sinn Fein today.

The "charter for unionist engagement" is an attempt to build on the party's outreach work in recent years and will be revealed at the Long Gallery in Stormont.

The main speaker at the event will be Mid Ulster MP and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Sinn Fein Foyle MLA and Head of Unionist Engagement, Martina Anderson, said she was confident the strategy will work.

"I am confident that there has been many reconciliation engagements processes which have included face-to-face meetings with Protestants and unionists.

"As republicans we have a view of the kind of Ireland that we would like established but there is an appetite out there for debate. I think the charter is a tool for engagement and it will add to the worthwhile and meaningful engagement that is already happening across the north."

Ms Anderson added: "Whilst we recognise there are entrenched positions out there within the unionist and republican population who find engagement somewhat difficult, we hope this charter will in some way prevent those people who are trying to maintain fostering differences of the two communities.

"The development of our unionist engagement is about trying to build up a better understanding of people from the different parts of our community and their experiences. It is a two-way street and a slow process but there is significant engagement between ourselves and people right throughout the Protestant, unionist, and loyalist community."

Meanwhile, the Orange Order has demanded an apology from republicans for the murder of Orangemen throughout the Troubles.

Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Drew Nelson, has said: "We believe that 311 members of the Orange Order were murdered as a result of the Troubles.

"Of those, almost 200 were current or former members of the security forces.

"Many were murdered simply because they were members of the Orange Order.

"In the case of the Tullyvallen Orange Hall massacre in 1975, the IRA burst into a lodge meeting and murdered five defenceless Orangemen.

There has been a clear campaign since then to attack our buildings and on average 14 Orange Halls have been burnt per year - that is more than one per month. In total there have been over 260 attacks on our halls.

"Sinn Fein's continued justification of these murders and their glorification of those who carried them out sickens the vast majority of the Protestant community. Now is the time for the Republican movement to condemn and apologise for the murders of our members and attacks on our property. Murder is murder and should be condemned by all.

"The Orange Order and its members need to hear a sincere and unequivocal apology from the republican movement."

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