Protestant community's difficulties emphasised
THE HEAD of the Orange Order has become the first member of his organisation to address the Oireachtas.
Drew Nelson, the grand secretary, led a delegation from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to Leinster House yesterday and gave a comprehensive and uncompromising address to Seanad Éireann.
His speech included themes of reconciliation, normalisation of relationships, and the sense that the Protestant community has been on the receiving end of a sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism.
Mr Nelson also compared the fall in numbers of the minority Protestant population in the South to an increase in the minority Catholic population in the North, saying it raised the issue of which State served its minority better.
He also referred to the continuation of arson, and other attacks on Orange halls North and South, and funding cuts for Protestant schools in the South.
Mr Nelson also emphasised the Protestant nature of the organisation as well as its strong belief that Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom.
Mr Nelson was invited to address the Seanad by Senator Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary McAleese.
The Belfast-born Senator said the occasion was historic. The British ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, and US ambassador Dan Rooney were also at the session.
Mr Nelson outlined the origins and growth of the Orange Order, from its foundation in 1795.
He said 336 of its members had been murdered during the Troubles. A phenomenon that became more apparent from the late 1980s on was the burning of Orange halls. Some 323 had been burned in the past 22 years.
“These burnings continue. I have been told that another Orange hall, although not burned, was severely attacked and damaged in Belfast last night.
“I believe these burnings are a direct result of the demonisation of the Orange Order by the republican movement.”
He also criticised “resistance” to Orange Order parades, organised by republicans.
Turning to Protestant communities in the South, he argued that many Protestants in Border counties had spoken about their “communal uncertainty of survival”.
He also said the funding cuts in Protestant schools were having a severe effect among the scattered Border Protestant community.
He said he had accepted the invitation to speak for two reasons. The first was that it was a formal recognition of the order’s place in Irish society.
The second reason was that “we want to contribute to the normalisation of relationships within these islands”.
He said that circumstances were changing and that positive initiatives by the Irish Government had contributed to that. These include funding for Orange halls, the development of the Battle of the Boyne visitor centre, and the queen’s visit.