Declan Kearney: Politics of fear and division must be rejected
Ensuring that facts should not get in the way of repeating misrepresentations was a thought which struck forcefully when I read Nelson McCausland's recent article on Orange culture.
Nelson repeated his view that Sinn Fein is prejudiced against the Orange Order, and again ridiculed our commitment to equality, respect and reconciliation.
He deliberately and falsely characterised the actions and words of myself and other Sinn Fein leaders.
The fact is, Orange culture is an integral part of Irish society.
Orange traditions and culture are indeed enjoyed by a large section of our community.
The Orange institutions sit deep within the social context of many rural areas, particularly.
Sinn Fein has acknowledged that to be the case - many times.
I said most recently at our ard fheis that Orange culture, the unionist political tradition, and British identity are part of our shared history. Sinn Fein believes they should be central to the fabric of a new Ireland.
Nelson knows that is our position. A false, negative narrative, or 'project fear', is being fuelled by some senior unionists and Orange leaders. They choose to reduce the Good Friday Agreement, the rights and equality agenda, anti-sectarianism, and reconciliation as zero sum concepts.
Equality and respect are promoted as losses for unionists instead of wins for everyone.
Campaigning for Irish language rights is maliciously distorted as cultural warfare, rather than parity of esteem. The most recent example is the smokescreen created around the DUP leadership's decision to renege on the advanced agreement with Sinn Fein on February 14.
This false narrative exposes the failure of political unionist and Orange leadership. The only possible outcome is to encourage fear and mistrust, and deepen polarisation.
The cheerleaders for 'project fear' within unionism are not serious about a shared future.
They seek to politically and electorally profit from sectarian division.
Mutual respect and parity of esteem apply equally to our shared Orange and Gaelic cultures, unionist and republican traditions, and British and Irish identities.
The political process is broken. It needs to be fixed
We all deserve to live in a shared society. The sectarian hate crimes and scenes of violence which marked the Twelfth must be made a thing of the past.
Sinn Fein has repeatedly sought to engage the DUP in discussions about anti-sectarianism and reconciliation.
It has refused to have those progressive discussions because some who currently dominate within that party prefer communal and political division instead of a united and shared society.
The Orange culture should indeed be respected. So too should the Irish language, Gaelic culture and Irish identity.
The Good Friday Agreement was not about winners and losers. The principles of mutual respect, parity of esteem and equality belong to all sides.
The politics of fear and division must be rejected. We need a real and meaningful discussion about how we can share a vision for the future and build towards reconciliation.
A good start would be to start a genuine dialogue between Sinn Fein and Orange Order.