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Did Orange Order chief’s comments breach hate laws?

The Justice Minister in the North has been asked to launch a probe into whether controversial comments made by the head of the Orange Order broke hate laws.

SDLP MLA John Dallat has tabled a question at Stormont to Justice Minister David Ford after the order’s Grand Master Robert Saulters described dissident republicans as “just fancy names” for the “Roman Catholic IRA”.

The comments, written in a column for this month's edition of The Orange Standard newspaper, sparked outrage among nationalist politicians who have now branded him “a huge liability to the Orange Order”.

In the article Mr Saulters hit out at “do-gooders” putting “their two-pence halfpenny worth into parading”, adding: “Surely we have learned something from the Claudy bombing, the Omagh bombing and all the other atrocities, these fancy names of dissident, real, eirigi, they are all the Roman Catholic IRA and let us not forget that.”

Mr Dallat said he has now submitted a written question asking Mr Ford to detail what steps he has taken to establish if Mr Saulters has infringed hate laws.

“If this latest outburst does not infringe the hate laws then those laws must be reviewed immediately and hopefully one way or another the Justice Minister will take steps to take bigotry and sectarianism out of the vocabulary of people in powerful positions to influence good or evil,” he said.

“Linking the Catholic community or indeed any community to terror groups is inciting weak-minded people to hatred, and surely history tells us what that has led to in the past.

“Mr Saulters has become a huge liability to the Orange Order and those who claim they want to bring the organisation into the real world should cut their losses and ‘give him his marching orders’. No organisation needs an albatross round their necks, and that applies especially to the Orange Order.”

Mr Saulters, however, is not retracting the comments. An Orange Order spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: “The Grand Master stands by what he wrote.”

The Grand Master's article also lambasted the planned sale of Northern Ireland Electricity by its Bahrain bank owners to ESB.

He alleged that “dirty dealing” is leading to Northern Ireland Electricity being “taken over by the Southern Government's counterpart”. His column also referred to the war in Afghanistan, making an apparent link to the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

A Public Prosecution Service spokesperson said decisions for prosecution are “on the basis of the Test for Prosecution and issues as to the religious background of a potential defendant do not form any part of the decision-making process”.

Belfast Telegraph