Orange lodges permitted to engage with Sinn Féin

Members of the Orange Order march in memory of murdered UDA man Jim Guiney. Picture: Sunday Life
Members of the Orange Order march in memory of murdered UDA man Jim Guiney. Picture: Sunday Life Members of the Orange Order march in memory of murdered UDA man Jim Guiney. Picture: Sunday Life

LOCAL Orange Order lodges can engage with Sinn Féin, the parent organisation for Ireland has indicated.

Confirmation that lodges can decide themselves who they speak to comes in the wake of exchanges following an Orange Order parade in memory of a murdered UDA member.

Lisburn LOL 1981 organised the parade around Derriaghy to mark the 25th anniversary of the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Jim Guiney, a member of the lodge.

Lagan Valley Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood voiced her opposition to the parade in The Irish News, which she said then attracted the unwanted attention of loyalists. She said she felt threatened and harassed by articles in a magazine and via telephone calls to her office.

But it also emerged the local lodge had reached out to political representatives, including Sinn Féin.

The lodge said that “given the negative coverage, the lodge proactively attempted to alleviate any fears".

"Conversations were sought with all local political representatives. Indeed constructive and positive engagement took place with both SDLP councillor Johnny McCarthy and the local Sinn Féin rep.”

Sinn Féin said there were no conversations with the Orange Order over this parade, but the party is open and willing to engage with the organisation.

The Orange Order told The Irish News that “the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, as a body, does not formally engage with Sinn Féin”.

“The Orange family lost more than 300 members at the hands of republican terrorists, and we believe formal engagement with a party that believes these murders were justified has the potential to cause deep hurt to the families, many of whom are still seeking justice for their loved ones decades on,” a spokesman said.

But he added: “It is a matter for local lodges to decide who they engage with; they know their respective situation and context.

“Furthermore, individual members engage with representatives from all political parties, politically, professionally, and in relation to a range of issues as they deem necessary."

Sinn Féin said its "position is that dialogue and engagement with communities affected by the impact of parades is the way to resolve contentious issues".

“Sinn Féin is open and willing to engage with the Orange Order and all stakeholders around the parading issue and as the basis for building a shared society and reconciliation," a spokesperson said.

Following Ms Eastwood's comments about how she felt threatened after publicly voicing her opposition to the parade, the local lodge sad it "would challenge very forcefully that it has been involved in any intimidation, harassment or defamation of Ms Eastwood".

Lodge leader Sam Johnston said: "The lodge members as a whole are very saddened to hear of the pressure Ms Eastwood feels under, and of course abhor any criminality irrespective of the source.

"If she has evidence of any threats or acts of intimidation we would urge her to contact the PSNI. We still do not understand why Ms. Eastwood singularly deemed our event controversial when no others did. Her refusal to engage with the lodge is particularly confusing given her party places such importance on engagement."

While the lodge suggested no concerns were raised over the parade, the SDLP said its "representatives engaged with the organisers ahead of the parade and stressed the importance of engaging with the community, addressing any concerns that may arise and being aware of the potential for the event to heighten tensions".

"We also shared the views of a number of local residents who were concerned about the impact of this parade taking place in their area and raised questions around the appropriateness of such an event in their community," the party said.