Leading article

GAA and Orange Order exchange visits a welcome development

Arlene Foster's attendance at the Ulster GAA final in Clones was rightly applauded as an act of positive engagement, an example of how constructive gestures can help break down the barriers of mistrust in our society.

It has to be acknowledged that the DUP leader's act of outreach was not universally welcomed but the criticism was fairly muted, which is hopefully a sign of wider unionist acceptance that a different approach is needed, that progressive moves should be embraced and not regarded with suspicion.

Mrs Foster's visit came just a few weeks after Leo Varadkar made a successful trip to east Belfast, touring the Orange Order museum and being warmly greeted by local residents on the Cregagh Road.

Nationalists will have their own views on the Orange Order, particularly in relation to the more recent history of contentious parades, but few would argue against efforts to improve understanding and build relationships in order to reduce tensions.

In that spirit, last Saturday's cultural exchange involving a south Belfast Orange hall and a GAA club has to be seen as a positive step forward.

At the invitation of Ballynafeigh Cultural and Heritage Society, Bredagh GAC was welcomed to Ballynafeigh Orange Hall on the Ormeau Road for a tour of the building which included information about the origins and history of the Orange Order.

Members of the heritage society were also asked along to Cherryvale playing fields to watch a Feile Peile na nÓg youth football tournament.

This was clearly an encouraging development in an area which has seen considerable tensions over Orange marches in the past.

It is a mixed area where residents want to live alongside their neighbours in peace and harmony and any steps which help improve community relations must be welcomed.

As we know, cross-community outreach has been taking place in different parts of Northern Ireland for many years and tribute should be paid to those involved in what is often a quiet, low key engagement.

Whether it is political leaders making a symbolic gesture or local people getting together for a chat, building a shared society takes many forms but is so much better than perpetuating division.

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