Rev Mervyn Gibson: Varadkar Orange Order visit will serve to dispel myths
When my predecessor, the late Drew Nelson, made an historic address to the Irish Senate in Dublin six years ago, he stressed the burden of history on these islands should no longer stand in the way of the "normalisation of relationships".
Like Drew, I would also maintain the Orange Institution should move forward together with the Irish government. Indeed, I have been committed to working positively with it and other statutory agencies, and appropriate non-governmental bodies, to represent the concerns of our members in the Republic.
This longstanding working relationship was underlined by the visit of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to our Belfast headquarters and museum yesterday. As well as learning more about the rich cultural heritage of Orangeism, Mr Varadkar, importantly, met with a number of our brethren from the Republic. As an all-island organisation, we welcome such engagement.
We also acknowledge the symbolism of the Taoiseach showing reverence at the memorial window to our 336 murdered members.
Following on from Her Majesty The Queen previously paying her respects at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, this gesture was very poignant. Not only were more than half of our members killed because of their association with the RUC, UDR and Prison Service; many were targeted by terrorists solely because they were Protestant.
We now look forward to progressing the Taoiseach's commitment to develop school visits from the Republic to the Museum of Orange Heritage. The undoubted tourism potential of the Boyne battlefield site, along with our Belfast and Loughgall museums, is something we will also be aiming to advance with the Irish government in the coming months.
We hope that this visit, and our ongoing engagement with wider society, will help to dispel the myths which are so damaging to relationships between our communities.
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As a proud Protestant with Donegal roots, my unionism has certainly not been diminished by this initiative. Neither, do I assume, has the Taoiseach's nationalism.
He would know the Institution's views on matters such as Brexit, articulated by our unionist politicians who we support. Like them, we seek to see the constitutional integrity of the border maintained as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. However - such notable differences, and the past, should not mean we cannot work together in a respectful manner for a better and shared future, and a normalisation of relationships between our two countries.
Rev Mervyn Gibson is Grand Secretary of the Orange Order