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Open Letter to the People of Northern Ireland from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 2 July 1998

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Text: Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland


2 July 1998

Dear Fellow Citizens

I am sure, in common with members of the Orange Institution, you are concerned about events over the coming days in respect of traditional Orange parades. In order to assist understanding of our historic culture and noble traditions we wish to outline certain facts which are relevant to the situation.

The disputed parades occur along main arterial roads which are shared by all communities. All are traditional routes, none have been concocted or organised to cause offence. We are not engaged in coat trailing or triumphalism. We simply want to celebrate our culture and identity peacefully and with dignity.

We recognise that along with the right to parade comes responsibility, which we have exercised by talking to residents' groups, local politicians, clergy from all denominations and other interested parties. We have taken on board the fears and concerns of the many people we have spoken to. This has resulted in the restricted playing of music and the improved marshalling of our parades. However, in all conscience we cannot talk to those groups influenced by republican terrorists whose purpose is to deny our civil rights. The Orange Institution also does not talk to the Parades Commission, because it is a discredited Government quango whose remit and actions are clearly in violation of democracy, justice and human rights.

Traditional loyal order parades are attacked as part of the republican strategy to remove the British presence from Northern Ireland. All things British are being opposed on three fronts: military, political and cultural, the latter being the excuse to invest time and effort into planning and creating unnecessary opposition to traditional Orange parades.

The restricting of loyal order parades along main roads creates cultural apartheid, where one community has a veto on another community's expression of identity and heritage. Banning and rerouting Orange Parades from shared roads and village main streets will only lead to further segregation of our respective communities. This is not the way to build a future where there is mutual respect and tolerance. Ethnic segregation is morally wrong. It did not work in South Africa and the United States. It must not be allowed to work in Northern Ireland.

In a democratic, divided society accommodation is the only way to build a future where people of differing traditions can peacefully co-exist. Toleration needs to be the approach when matters of tradition and heritage are expressed. While much of gaelic and nationalist culture is politicised, the unionist community does not go out of its way to be offended or to be obstructive. We may not identify with gaelic and nationalist culture, but we do not attempt to censure it. All we ask for is the same in return for our Protestant heritage and unionist identity.

We would especially appeal to all free-thinking people in the nationalist community to consider the parading issue carefully. Are your views based on toleration and mutual respect? Have you thought about the time it takes a parade to pass along these so called contentious routes, and the changes which parades organisers have made? Or are your views based on bigotry and an anti-British mindset in which there is no place for those from the unionist tradition? What we celebrate through our traditional parades is civil and religious liberty for all; not just for Protestants, not just for dissenters. But civil rights for all, regardless of race, creed, denomination, or gender, and special privileges for none.

NOTICE: We would respectfully request that prayers for peace and toleration take place in every Church this coming Sunday and would advise those who wish to join members of the Orange Institition in prayer that selected Orange Halls will be open this Saturday (4th July) for a time of meditation. Please contact local Orange Order officials for details.

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