Dublin must choose between good relations with unionism or NI protocol, senior Orangeman says

Full slate of July Twelfth parades takes place across Northern Ireland for first time in three years after Covid-19 pandemic

A senior Orangeman has told the Government that it must choose between “clinging” to the Northern Ireland protocol and good relations with unionism.

In a speech to members of the Orange Order at the demonstration field following the Twelfth of July march in Newry, Co Down on Tuesday, the order’s grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson – addressing his comments directly to Taoiseach Micheál Martin – said relationships with the unionist community were “at their lowest point in many years”.

“Your Ministers and President are no longer welcome in many of our communities,” he said.

“Do you want to move forward and rebuild relationships or take us back to a time of cross border boycotts and tension,” Rev Gibson asked, warning it would be “an Irish cold war of your making”.


Rev Gibson also said Orangemen and women needed to “be persuaders for the Union” and “bemoaning our situation, whinging about politicians, claiming a United Ireland is only around the corner are not the actions that will maintain Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom”.

“Let us encourage action in the months ahead and let the stories of faith, commitment and service of those who have made Northern Ireland a place we are proud to call home prepare us and propel us all to meet the challenges ahead,” he said.

Thousands of members of the Orange Order took part in parades in 18 locations across Northern Ireland on Tuesday to mark the victory of the Protestant William III over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Full schedule

It is the first time since 2019 that the full schedule of “Twelfth” parades has taken place, as the event was either cancelled or scaled back during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Orange Order said half a million people were expected to turn out to watch the parades, with the longest in Belfast and large demonstrations in Armagh, Newry, Enniskillen and Limavady.

About 250 bonfires were lit in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland on Monday night to mark the “Eleventh Night”, the beginning of the July 12th commemorations.

There was condemnation of images which were widely circulated on social media showing flags, placards bearing sectarian slogans and election posters belonging to Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and People Before Profit politicians affixed to some bonfires before they were set alight.

The PSNI said it had received a “number of complaints relating to flags, effigies, election posters and other emblems being placed on bonfires” and was gathering evidence which it would “review to establish whether offences have been committed”.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said it attended 35 bonfire-related incidents, down 12.5 per cent compared to last year.

In their platform speeches, Rev Gibson and the Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, called for unionists to unite against the Northern Ireland protocol.

No functioning government

Unionists oppose the protocol – the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing an economic border in the Irish Sea. The North has been without a functioning government since the May elections, as the largest unionist party, the DUP, has refused to agree to its formation until its concerns over the protocol are dealt with.

Addressing the crowd in Bushmills, Co Antrim, Mr Stevenson said the Orange Order had been “unwavering in its opposition of the protocol and the major problems that it brings”.

“It has made Northern Ireland a place apart from the rest of the United Kingdom, it has delivered an economic realignment towards the Republic of Ireland, and it leaves us under rule from Brussels by representatives that we have not elected,” he said.

“The only way we can stand strong,” he added, “is if unionists stand together, work together and co-operate on matters of major significance such as the protocol.”

Meanwhile, a man was arrested in south Belfast following an altercation between a resident and a loyalist marching band on Tuesday.

Footage circulating online appears to show a resident throwing a bin at the band as it passed a house.

Police were at the scene as members of the band went to the door of the house.

Belfast district commander Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said police were “aware of footage circulating online involving a number of parties in the Agincourt Avenue area of south Belfast.

“We have arrested a 46-year-old man on suspicion of a range of offences including assault and disorderly behaviour.

“Detectives are currently investigating other potential offences and persons,” he said.

Additional reporting – PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times