There must be no Irish language act, Orange Order insists
Protestant Minister says Ireland doesn’t need visit from the Pope but from Holy Spirit
Bandsmen and Orange order members take part in the annual Twelfth of July celebrations in Belfast city centre. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
There must be no legislative concession on the Irish language, thousands of Orangemen and women and their supporters were told on Thursday at Twelfth of July demonstrations throughout Northern Ireland.
At the order’s 17 parades in the North Orange leaders reasserted their opposition to an Irish language act – viewed by Dublin and London as one of the necessary compromises if the DUP and Sinn Féin are to strike a deal sometime in the autumn or next year to restore the Stormont powersharing Executive.
On Thursday afternoon at the 17 fields where the Orange members gathered following the morning outward parades the three traditional resolutions on the Protestant faith and loyalty to the British crown and state were formally adopted.
On the Irish language the resolution stated, “We reaffirm our opposition to the introduction of any form of legislation for the Irish language. Such a move would have far reaching detrimental consequences for our British identity and would rightly be acknowledged as a landmark victory for republicanism in their ongoing cultural war against our community.”
The resolution also noted “with despair, the recent abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, and encourage our own government to resist any attempts to change the law in Northern Ireland”.
At the Newcastle, Co Down parade the grand secretary of the order, the Rev Mervyn Gibson spoke of the need for the institution to adopt “new thinking; new tactics and new alliances” in order to remain “relevant”.
Mr Gibson said the principles and message of the order remained the same “but how we defend and promote them needs to be made fit for purpose in a world that would be unrecognisable to our fathers and mothers, let alone our grandfathers and grandmothers”.
“Equally, there is to be no compromise on our cherished position within the United Kingdom, ” he said. “Nationalists and republicans seek to use border polls and Brexit to worry us into a united Ireland. Well, they couldn’t murder us, bomb us, intimidate us into a united Ireland – they are certainly not going to bribe us, cajole us or frighten us into a united Ireland.”
The order’s grand master Edward Stevenson, speaking at the demonstration in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, said as an institution that lost 336 people during the Troubles it was vital the voice of the organisation continued to be heard.
He said, “Republicans are daily attempting to rewrite history to make it look as if their campaign of murder was somehow justified. We will never allow the perpetrators of violence to become the victims, and that would be an insult to those who lost their lives and to their families.”
The order’s grand chaplain, Rev Alistair Smyth, speaking in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, said “the United Kingdom as a whole is increasingly becoming a cold house for Bible believing Christians”.
“In view of the decline in Biblical Christianity in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, what this island needs is not a visit from the Pope but a visit of God’s Holy Spirit,” he said.
The order’s deputy grand master Harold Henning, speaking in Donaghcloney, Co Down said it was right to “cultivate good relations with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland…but let no one confuse talking over the fence with taking away the fence”.
“We recognise a sizeable minority of those who live in Northern Ireland seek a united Ireland, as is their democratic right in a free society,” he added. “Let us also recognise that the vast majority of them had no truck with, and were rightly ashamed of those republicans, who engaged in a sickening murderous campaign against their Protestant neighbours, whether in or out of uniform.”
Derek Reaney, the order’s assistant grand master speaking in Garvagh, Co Derry said Brexit posed a “massive challenge to the future unity and economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom”.
He added, “Any attempt to create any political, economic, or cultural barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom must be opposed. A semi-detached union is totally unacceptable.”
Another grand chaplain, Rev Ron Johnstone in Newtownards, Co Down, said King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne “cemented liberties” that all citizens can enjoy - “freedom of speech, freedom of worship, an independent judiciary and a freely elected parliament”.
Mr Smyth concluded his speech: “We declare today this is our culture. It is not intended to offend anyone. It is part of who we are. Get over it.”
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister told the Independent Orange Order demonstration in Broughshane, Co Antrim, that as presently configured Stormont could never succeed because “Sinn Féin is not there to make Northern Ireland work”.