President praised at bash for Twelfth
ORANGE Order members and former Loyalist prisoners shared tea and sandwiches on the lawn of Aras an Uachtarain last night for the final time in President Mary McAleese's term of office.
About 400 invited guests from the North and from government departments south of the Border attended the President's garden party to celebrate the 'Twelfth of July'.
The party has been hosted by the President each year since 1998.
In contrast to the tension that accompanies the celebration in the North, yesterday's reception was a relaxed affair.
Former loyalist prisoner Paul Hoey called the President's commitment and work on behalf of peace in the North "unbelievable".
It was Mr Hoey's 14th time in the Aras, but he admitted that he didn't know what to expect when he first travelled in 1998.
"I suppose it was a case of 'we'll go and find out', but Martin McAleese is a lovely person and Mary is an absolute gem. How anybody is going to come in on the back of what she's done for the past 14 years, I don't know," he said.
In a brief speech, President McAleese said the temper of cross-community politics had changed dramatically.
"The destination of full reconciliation and the disappearance of sectarianism is still some distance ahead of us but today, when the old culture of hatred and violence rears its head, as it does still from time to time, it is met with a robust, cross-community solidarity," she said.
Mark Houston, who runs a Methodist community group in East Belfast, said he hoped Mrs McAleese's emphasis on the North would be carried on by her successor.
When questioned about the violence in some parts of the North in recent days, Mr Houston said he believed it was a temporary setback.
"It's a bit like the peace process -- the tide comes in and out on it. I think we are in one of these times when the tide is going out but the waves are coming in."