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Loyalists wouldn't visit Aras if McGuinness wins claim

MARY McAleese's bridges with the Orange Order will be burnt if Martin McGuinness makes it to the Aras, a liberal Orangeman has warned.

John Laird said all the good work the outgoing President had done in building links with the Orange Order and other Protestant institutions in the north would be in jeopardy under a McGuinness presidency.

"He has never apologised for the past crimes of the IRA, he has not sought atonement for the murder of Orangemen during the Troubles," Mr Laird said.

The Orangeman and Ulster Scots activist recently spoke out against fellow Orangemen who objected to two leading Ulster Unionists attending Catholic Mass for policeman Ronan Kerr, who was murdered by the Real IRA. Laird called for an end to the centuries old ban within the Orange Order against members attending Catholic church services.

"In the past I had some trouble with Mary McAleese especially when she appeared to compare Protestants to Nazis and Catholics as Jews in Hitler's Germany. That caused a great deal of hurt in our community. But to be fair President McAleese reached out to the Orange tradition, she invited our bretheren to Aras an Uachtarain, she visited an Orange hall near the border. There is no doubt that she tried to understand and respect our culture."

Asked about the possibility of Martin McGuinness as president, Mr Laird said: "Those bridges Mary McAleese sought to build will be burnt. Even someone who holds liberal views within the Orange Order like myself could not bring myself in taking up any visit by a President McGuinness.

"The memories of IRA atrocities are too raw and the fact that he has not said that campaign of terror was wrong says everything we need to know. Under him the presidency will be a cold house for Protestants and Orangemen."

In 2008, Mary McAleese became the first Irish president to visit an Orange lodge. She visited the Orange Hall at Barkey in Co Cavan.

During her historic trip President McAleese condemned sectarian tit-for-tat attacks in the north on Orange halls and GAA clubs.