Many feel both British and Irish, Varadkar tells Orange Order

‘The colours on our flag are white, orange and green in equal measure,’ says Taoiseach

 Leo Varadkar  meets  the Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge, Rev Mervyn Gibson at Government Buildings. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Leo Varadkar meets the Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge, Rev Mervyn Gibson at Government Buildings. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with the grand secretary of the Orange Order in Dublin on Monday for a wide-ranging discussion on North-South issues that also touched on Brexit.

The grand secretary, Rev Mervyn Gibson, led a delegation of Orange Order members based in the Republic to Government Buildings for a meeting that was also attended by Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Government said that among the issues discussed were Protestant schools; wider education issues; infrastructure; and the cultural needs of Protestant communities in Border counties. There was also a discussion on possible tourism projects including further development of the Battle of the Boyne site, the possibility of a “Williamite Trail” from Antrim to Aughrim, and second World War commemorations.

Orange Halls, and sporting and community facilities in the Border region, also came up for discussion.

The Government said the meeting also touched on Brexit, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration agreed at the European Council meeting in Brussels last weekend.

Speaking after the meeting the Taoiseach said: “The colours on our flag are white, orange and green in equal measure. Sometimes I feel that we haven’t fully lived up to that. The Good Friday Agreement acknowledges that people in Northern Ireland have the right to be British, Irish or both, and accepted as such. We should acknowledge that there are many people in our State that feel themselves to be both British and Irish. It’s something that we should accept too.”

Brexit

The Orange Order remained neutral during the Brexit debate in the North and, as an organisation, has not sided with either the Yes or No sides since then.

Mr Varadkar visited the Orange Order Museum in Belfast in June, becoming the first serving taoiseach to do so. It was during that visit that he invited Rev Gibson to Dublin. He said it would provide an opportunity to raise issues of concern to Orange Order members who live in the State.

“On many occasions, I have said that our job should be to build bridges, not borders. And I strongly believe that states can best be judged on how they treat minorities. This visit today is another step in an ongoing engagement between the Government and the Order.

“We must always keep channels of communication open as a basis for respectful discussion on matters of common interest. I Iook forward to ongoing dialogue between the Government and the Orange Order,” said Mr Varadkar.

Speaking afterwards, Rev Gibson said: “This was a useful exercise, following on from the Taoiseach’s visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage earlier this year.

“Members of the institution from the Border counties of the Republic of Ireland raised a number of issues with Mr Varadkar, including education, culture and tourism.

“On behalf of the institution, I would like to thank the Taoiseach for hosting this afternoon’s meeting. We look forward to building on such conversations with the Irish Government, allowing for ongoing representation on matters relating to our members and the Orange fraternity in the Republic of Ireland.”