Friday 19 January 2018

Orange Order leader asks Higgins to attend parade

Grand Master invites President to join in Co Donegal Twelfth march

Marchers at the annual Orange Order parade through Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, yesterday
Marchers at the annual Orange Order parade through Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, yesterday

Greg Harkin

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins is expected to attend an Orange Order parade after an invite from leaders of the organisation.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson made his invitiation public at its only Republic of Ireland parade in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, yesterday.

More than 7,000 Orange Order members and supporters took part in the parade from the local hall to the area’s famous surfing beach.Lodges from Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Dublin and Derry took part in the march just a week before controversial parades in the North.

There are real fears of another Drumcree-style stand-off in Ardoyne spreading to the rest of the six counties with road closures and “civil disobedience” being urged by some unionist leaders.

The ‘festival’ spirit of the Donegal march yesterday — with hundreds of Union flags on display — wasn’t without controversy. Two bands, one from Newtowncunningham in Donegal and one from Ballyronan in Co Derry, shocked even their own supporters by playing the sectarian tune The Sash.

“I didn’t think they were supposed to play that down here,” said a woman with a south-of-the-border accent.

It was a day full of contradictions. Locals wearing Donegal GAA jerseys looked on as men in Rangers tops cheered. A couple from Co Down on a surfing holiday decided to go to Slieve League — Ireland’s highest sea cliffs — for the day. “We came here to get away from this crap,” the dad-of-three told the Sunday Independent.

Mr Stevenson continued the theme, reaching out to President Higgins on one hand and, on the other, preparing for what may lie ahead in Belfast and the North in six days’ time. And promising not to lie down.

“Two years ago, our Grand Secretary Drew Nelson made a landmark and historic speech in the Irish Senate in Dublin,” Mr Stevenson told the crowd at the end of the parade.

“Mr Nelson spoke of the challenges facing all of us as we move forward together, and despite the horror of the sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism, underlined the Orange institution’s genuine desire to see a normalisation of relationships on these islands.

“No more so was this illustrated by the momentous state visit of Her Majesty the Queen here to the Republic in 2011. During her trip, the Queen visited sites of significance to Irish nationalism, including the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park in Dublin. Such gestures of reconciliation were hugely symbolic and carried out by Her Majesty with great decorum and respect.

“It is against this backdrop, and from this platform today, that I publically invite the President of the Republic of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, to join us and witness for

himself next year the colour and spectacle of the only Twelfth demonstration in this jurisdiction.

“You will be made most welcome here in Rossnowlagh, President Higgins, and I trust you will accept the genuine invitation in the spirit of goodwill and neighbourliness in which it is intended.

“In your inaugural speech, you spoke of a ‘common, shared future built on the spirit of co-operation’, about ‘equality’ and ‘respect for all’.

“What better way to make such words a reality by reaching out in a hand of friendship to the minority Protestant community in the Republic; the symbolism of which would have positive ramifications beyond the boundaries of County Donegal.” Then he turned to the North, Ardoyne and the new crisis besetting its people in the days, and probably weeks, ahead.

He described a decision by the Parades Commission to re-route an Orange parade in Ardoyne as “disastrous”.

“I have called an emergency meeting of all County Grand Masters and District Masters from all over

Northern Ireland to inform them of our course of action and our engagement with the leaders of unionism.”

He said violence “should not prevail” but it seems almost inevitable.

Mary Hamilton, originally from Lifford in Donegal, but now a unionist councillor “in Londonderry” checked her husband Ernie (81) out of hospital yesterday to attend the parade, his 63rd.

She told the Sunday Independent: “This is a real family day in Rossnowlagh. I wish people in Northern Ireland would come down here for the day and see this. It is so peaceful and I wish we could do the same in Northern Ireland.

“Here in Donegal one person respects the other. I don’t know how we resolve Ardoyne because if one side gives in, the other sees it as a loss. Once it’s in the towns and cities, there’s problems but that doesn’t happen in rural areas.

“It’s very hard to control the young  people. I just hope there’s peace because none of us want a return to the violence of the past. None of us.”

Online Editors

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