Orange Order will not meet Sinn Féin despite Mary Lou McDonald apology
THE Orange Order has said it has no plans to meet Sinn Féin representatives despite party leader Mary Lou McDonald appearing to apologise to members "who were hurt by the IRA".
The Dublin Central TD yesterday restated a desire to meet the Orange Order and said she would attend Twelfth demonstrations if invited.
The loyal order has consistently refused to hold official meetings with Sinn Féin, though individual members, including elected representatives, deal directly with republicans.
In March, Mrs McDonald told The Irish News that she was keen to meet Orange leaders.
"We need to stretch out the hand of friendship, go to places you’re not necessarily comfortable or familiar with," she said.
Earlier this month, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the order had not responded to a letter sent 10 months ago asking for a meeting.
Grand secretary Mervyn Gibson claimed there were "335 reasons" not to engage with the party – a reference to loyal order members killed by republicans during the Troubles.
In an interview with the News Letter yesterday, Ms McDonald said: "I am heartily sorry for everybody that got hurt. I am heartily sorry to those who were hurt by the IRA."
She confirmed that included the Orange Order and when it was put to her that members had been murdered, she said: "Yes. And I'm sorry that anybody was hurt."
However, she also said it was not a "reasonable position for the Orange Order to say 'Well, I'm not going to meet with that person because of everything that happened in the past' because everybody could adopt that position, and then where are we?"
When asked if she would attend the Twelfth demonstrations, she said she would if invited.
"I haven't been invited... I will meet everybody; if I could meet every single person, I would meet every single person individually."
The Sinn Féin president's comments came after Leo Varadkar became the first taoiseach to visit the order's headquarters in east Belfast earlier this month.
Orange grand master Edward Stevenson praised Mr Varadkar for paying his respects at a memorial to murdered members, saying the gesture would be "deeply appreciated by many relatives of the deceased, and the Orange membership as a whole".
In a statement in response to Ms McDonald's comments, the Orange Order said its demonstrations were public and anyone was free to attend but there was no intention of making a specific invitation to the Sinn Féin president.
"Such an invitation would insult the memory of our murdered members and bring further hurt and distress to many families," it said.
The order also said "any apology for murder" was between those making it and the families of the bereaved.
"The sincerity of the apology will be judged by the actions of those making it."