Northern Ireland news

Leading Orangemen call on unionists to reject Irish language act

The Belfast march was one of the largest of the 18 parades across Northern Ireland. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
John Monaghan

LEADING Orangemen have called on unionists to reject demands for an Irish language act at Stormont, claiming it would "gift republicans victory in the cultural war".

Several speeches made by senior loyal order figures at venues across Northern Ireland urged unionists not to compromise on the issue during talks to restore power-sharing, and re-iterated calls for the scrapping of the Parades Commission and greater co-operation amongst unionists of all shades.

Tens of thousands of people took part in parades and many more watched on as Orangemen gathered at 18 locations across the north yesterday, with the biggest marches in Co Armagh and Belfast.

In keeping with tradition, the largest Orange parade 'in the world' took place in Co Armagh, as Orangemen and women from across the county descended on the village of Richhill.

Towns and villages in each of the six counties take turns in hosting the main celebrations, with annual parades also in Belfast and Ballymena.

It was a much quieter day for police than in previous years, with just three arrests at parades across Northern Ireland.

Those taking part were commemorating the 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, while this year also marks 500 years since Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation.

Grand master Edward Stevenson paid tribute to the Orange Order's former grand secretary, Drew Nelson, who died in October at the age of 60, and announced a legacy project in his memory.

Speaking in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, he also said unionism was now "in a better place" following last month's Westminster election.

"Unionism needed to respond to the wake-up call at the previous assembly election - and it did. We look forward to 2021 with sureness, whilst remaining vigilant of those who seek to undermine our Britishness and way of life."

Calling for greater partnership between unionists, he added: "Country should always come before party self-interest."

Harold Henning, the order's deputy grand master, described calls for an Irish language act as "simply the next chapter in the republican campaign to rid Northern Ireland of any semblance of British cultural identity".

He told crowds in Ballynahinch, Co Down: "Sinn Féin want Northern Ireland to look and feel more Irish than the Republic of Ireland - and for our taxpayers to foot the bill.

"Our politicians need to understand that we cannot support any development which would gift republicans an important victory in the cultural war."

In Bangor, Co Down, grand secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson said that the "clue is in the word - unionist".

"Gerry (Adams)... (said) that Sinn Féin want to address the future role of the Orange and its place in an agreed Ireland.

"What arrogance - Sinn Féin want to address our role? To mimic one of their commanders when Gerry Adams was arrested - who do they think they are? What is there to discuss?"

The Sinn Féin president was also the subject of criticism from Ian Wilson, a former grand master of the Orange Order in Scotland, at a gathering in Cloughmills, Co Antrim.

Mr Wilson said: "If Gerry Adams has any sense, he'll drop his crackpot Irish language posturing and get on with the business of delivering government for the good of the whole community here in Northern Ireland."

Hitting out at the "appalling reaction" to news of the DUP-Tory deal at Westminster, he added: "It was open season, not just on the DUP but on all believing Protestants and Orangemen – in other words, on people like you and me."

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