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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 3 Jul 2012

Vol. 216 No. 7

Address by Mr. Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland

I acknowledge the presence in the House of the British and American ambassadors.

On behalf of my fellow Senators, I am delighted to welcome to the House Mr. Drew Nelson, grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, and the accompanying delegation led by the grand master, Mr. Edward Stevenson. Before we begin, I would like to make a few personal remarks.

I have been a public representative in various capacities since 1979. I have many memories from those 33 years of significant events. However, on this historic day, I cannot help but reflect back on what I knew or, maybe more accurately, what I thought I knew about the Orange Order until very recently. In this regard, I am sure I am no different from the other Members of this House.

My own background is typical of many with a rural Irish upbringing. Growing up in Mayo and in the years since, I had no real sense of what the Orange Order was or what it represented. The limited information I had was taken from the media. If I am honest, I must admit that I was not that interested in finding out more about the order. In short, it seemed so far removed and so irrelevant to my life in rural Ireland.

However, I recently travelled with Senator Martin McAleese to Belfast to meet with you. I was received graciously, with great hospitality and courtesy. I was given a tour of Schomberg House and saw at first hand the order's banners and historic artefacts and heard proud and passionate descriptions of the heritage of the order and its members. I left that meeting wondering how to reconcile my previous perceptions of the order with the way I was received, welcomed and treated at the home of the Grand Lodge of Ireland that day in Belfast. It brought home to me the dramatic changes which simple personal contact can bring about and underscores the need for us all to engage with the humanity of each other rather than to rely on perceptions and stereotypes.

Today is a particular milestone for Seanad Éireann and for the Orange Order. Mr. Nelson is the first representative of the Orange Order to speak to the Seanad and it is a mark of progress made in relations between Britain and Ireland, between North and South and between the various traditions on this island for him to accept our invitation to address this House. Seanad Éireann, for its part, is an appropriate forum for this address by Mr. Nelson. It was established in 1922 to represent all the views of the people on the island of Ireland.

This historic visit and address by the grand secretary of the Orange Order is most welcome at this time. I strongly believe that it is another step on the path to sustained peace and reconciliation on our island. It also presents an opportunity for our people to learn and build understanding about the Orange Order.

This is timely and significant as we approach a series of commemorations that will take place over the coming decade marking the centenaries of some of the most historic and significant events in Irish and British history, such as the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the Easter Rising and the First World War. We should use these commemorations to further reconciliation between our communities, to learn from each other, to build bridges, to promote positive and inclusive engagement and to deepen our understanding of our shared history.

I am delighted that, under our new procedures, we could invite Mr. Drew Nelson to address Seanad Éireann, that he has accepted our invitation and that this Chamber can play an important part in furthering peace and understanding. It is a great honour to invite Mr. Drew Nelson to address Seanad Éireann.

Mr. Drew Nelson

I thank the Cathaoirleach and Senators very much for the invitation to come here today. I heard the Cathaoirleach say he grew up in a rural Irish parish — so did I. I was born on a small farm in County Down. For the first year of my life, not only did we not have an inside toilet, we did not even have running water in my house. I am sure what I will say will strike a chord with many but my father brought water to our house from his parent's house in a milk can to see us through until we got our act together better.

I want to speak to Members today about the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland. The Orange Order, as it is commonly known, derives its name from King William III, Prince of Orange. It views his victory at the Boyne and his achievements elsewhere as laying one of the cornerstones of civil and religious liberty, something we believe is still very relevant in the pluralist 21st century. It also helped to establish the foundations of modern constitutional democracy, again something worth cherishing and defending. I probably do not have to remind the Members of this House that the cornerstones of democracy are continually under attack.

While some may therefore view the annual celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne by the Orange Order as anachronistic to a modern world, it is clear that the events there had a significance beyond the shores of Ireland and, in a way, that is still relevant today. In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, a number of Williamite and Boyne societies developed spontaneously to maintain the principles so dearly fought for at that time.

However, while we want to remember 1690, we do not want to live in it. Within Ireland, our institution was founded in September 1795, following a faction fight known as the Battle of the Diamond, which occurred near Loughgall in County Armagh. Following that incident, a lodge system was adopted by many pre-existing Protestant and Orange groups. This system spread rapidly and within just ten months, 315 Orange lodges had been formed.

My natural inclination at this point is to talk about the history of the Orange Order but it is much more important for me, on behalf of the institution, to use this occasion as a springboard for the future rather than as a shackle to the past. Having said that, we carry an enormous burden of history, which I must address and try to explain. Let us talk first about the burden of history which, I think, affects us all. I want to thank Deputy Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, for welcoming the invitation to us to address the Senate today but I note that he felt obliged to preface his welcome by stating "As a republican party we will always believe in and work towards a united Ireland." That preface Micheál felt he had to put on it is the burden of history in action.

Less than two years after the first Orange lodge was formed, General Lake, the commanding general in the north of Ireland, reviewed Orange parades on 12 July 1797 in Belfast, Lurgan and other places. Why did he do that? He did so because he saw the Orange Order as an ally in the forthcoming 1798 uprising. Orangemen were encouraged to join the yeomanry and Orange lodges were formed within yeomanry companies. Not for the last time, the Orange Order was used by others to protect their own interests. This has been a recurring theme in our organisation.

Over the next 50 years, we were suppressed by various Acts of Parliament but throughout this period Orange lodges continued to meet, sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously and sometimes in alternative guises such as shooting clubs or Brunswick clubs. The reason I am explaining this is to help Members understand that I believe the enduring strength of the Orange Order lies in its local roots. We are a very decentralised organisation, and although this poses great challenges at leadership level it is, ultimately, a great strength.

As the 19th century progressed and Home Rule for Ireland came onto the agenda the institution began to recover its strength. Most Orange halls were built between 1890 and 1910, perhaps as many as 400 during that 20-year period. This meant that the Orange institution owned more halls than any church or voluntary association. These halls became the centres of social activity in Protestant communities right across Ulster and further afield. The seeds which had been planted during the previous 100 years now matured into a lasting religious, physical and social presence all across Protestant Ulster.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this network of halls. At present, we have 835 halls, and between 30 and 40 of those are in the Republic. They provide an important social focus for our people. They plant our roots deeply in local communities, townland by townland.

The building of all of these halls, of course, would not have been possible without the co-operation of the aristocracy who gave the sites. Why did they do that? In the late 19th century the establishment again saw the institution as an ally to protect their interests in Ireland, this time against the threat of Home Rule. I repeat, not for the first or last time the Orange Order was used by others to protect their own interests.

As the Home Rule crisis developed the Orange Order and political Unionism joined to form the Ulster Unionist Council and subsequently co-operated enthusiastically in the organisation of the signing of Ulster's Solemn League and Covenant and the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Exactly a century ago, on 28 September 1912, some 471,414 Ulster men and women signed the Ulster Covenant, a tremendous feat of organisation carried out in an atmosphere of unyielding religious determination. In 1913 the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed. In 1914 it became the 36th Ulster Division of the imperial army and on 1 July 1916, the 226th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, it was destroyed at the Somme.

Many Senators may not be aware that on the morning of the Battle of the Somme, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, many members of the 36th Ulster Division wore their Orange sashes, either openly or under the tunics as they went over the top to their deaths.

We estimate that we may have lost as many as 10,000 members, including many from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, England and Scotland, in the First World War. Losses of Canadian Orangemen were particularly heavy.

All of these events contributed to the formation of the state of Northern Ireland. Because of its intimate involvement the Orange institution felt that it had played the leading role in the creation of a new country. For the next 50 years our role was very simple, namely, to protect, uphold and maintain the state of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

After the fall of the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland in 1972, life suddenly became much more complicated for the institution. As terrorism increased the establishment came calling yet again in its hour of need. Army colonels toured Orange halls begging members of the institution to join the Ulster Defence Regiment. Many thousands did and hundreds paid with their lives.

Because I want to emphasise my point, I am going to say again that not for the first or last time the Orange Order was used by others.

During the most recent terrorist campaign, and that is what we regard it as, 336 members of our institution were murdered. Over half of those members were serving in the security forces at the request of our Government. Again I cannot over-emphasise to you the effect these murders have had on our institution and the attitudes of our members. Between 1969 and 1989, that is the first 20 years of the Troubles, 11 Orange halls were burned. In the subsequent 22 years, a further 323 Orange halls have been burned. Something happened in the late 1980s. These burnings continue. I have just been told that another Orange hall, although not burned, was severely attacked and damaged in Belfast last night.

I believe these burnings are a direct result of the demonisation of the Orange Order by the republican movement. It is clear to us that in the late 1980s the republican movement decided to directly attack the Orange institution. As well as burning these 334 halls they also organised resistance to our parades. This resistance to parades continues to have a corrosive effect on community relations in Northern Ireland and, I believe, the potential to again explode onto the headlines. It also deeply affects the attitude of our members. As an institution we call for accommodation and tolerance not segregation. These words are easy to say but hard to live up to.

At this stage I want to mention one further matter which has had a profound effect on the attitude and beliefs of our members, especially those living in the Republic. In 1911 the size of the Roman Catholic minority in County Antrim was almost the same as the minority Protestant population in counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, just over 20%. By 1961, however, the minority population in County Antrim had grown by over 20% whilst the minority population in counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan had fallen by almost 40%. This of course begs the question as to which State looked after its minority better. Many of our members from the minority Protestant community in the Border counties of this State have spoken to me over the years of the communal uncertainty of their survival as a viable self-sustaining community. Many have also spoken frankly of their fear, and I am not just talking here about the fear of violence. I am specifically referring to their fear of incurring the displeasure of the State in any way. Again and again they have told me that their key to survival has been to keep their communal head down, not to rock the boat, not to bring attention to themselves.

A Chathaoirligh, I make this point because it is important that the political establishment understands this issue, but I also want to say that over the past few years I have seen the Protestant communal fear in the Border counties subside. I would like to pay tribute to Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, then Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs who, I believe, was the first Government Minister to positively address those issues when, in 2008, he funded Cadolemo as a community development organisation working with the Border Protestant community. That initiative has clearly and demonstrably built confidence within the Border Protestant community. For that we are very thankful.

Although things are improving, Protestant communal uncertainty still exists and has been reinforced over the past few years because of the education cuts to Protestant schools, which are having a severe effect among the scattered Border Protestant community. The effect is more severe than on Protestant schools in, for example, the greater Dublin area. The Border Protestant community is very different in nature from the Protestant community further south.

So what does the Orange Order stand for today? One of the reasons we are such an enduring organisation is that we continue to stand for the two key principles we have always stood for, namely, faith and fraternity. Our organisation is still vibrant almost 220 years after it was formed. With more than 800 Orange halls and more than 1,200 lodges, we feel we are an enduring organisation. The secret of that sometimes eludes us. I believe it is partly to do with decentralisation and partly to do with those two core principles and the fact that we stick rigidly to them. We respect the right of everyone to worship God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience, or not to worship at all. Nevertheless, we are a Protestant organisation and our membership is only open to those of the Protestant reformed faith. We believe the essence of the Christian faith is summed up in the statement "salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone" and all of this we believe is based on the Bible alone. We value our Protestantism highly. All of our meetings open and close with prayer and readings from the Bible. Over 90% of our parades are church parades. All of our 12 July demonstrations have a religious service as the central part of the day's activities. Many of our members believe that once they put a collarette on in their lodge room that morning, they are engaged in a religious act right through until they finish at the end of the day.

We have approximately 20 different Protestant denominations in membership. Operating and organising in a community which places a high value on individual freedom of thought, conscience and responsibility means that in vast areas of Northern Ireland we are the only Protestant organisation which brings individual members of all of the diverse denominations together. As a result, we are often regarded as a strong unifying force within a very diverse Protestant community. I, personally, believe that is why the republican movement started to attack us directly in the late 1980s. We were this unifying force deeply embedded town land by town land, parish by parish within the Protestant community.

Today, we have approximately 1,300 Orange lodges meeting in 835 Orange halls in 11 counties, that is, in the nine Ulster counties, Leitrim and Dublin. Approximately 6,000 groups meet in our halls. That is a number worth thinking about. Perhaps as many as ten times that number of groups meet in our halls as meet in council facilities such as community and sports centres. I do not want to bore the Senators with the figures, but I hope these will help them understand that we believe ourselves to be a strong communal glue holding Protestant society together. Our roots really do grow deep in Protestant society, particularly in rural Ulster.

Most Members here today will probably not be aware that there are eight loyal orders operating within the complex and diverse Protestant community, such as the Royal Arch Purple institution, the Royal Black Institution, the Association of Loyal Orange Women of Ireland and the Apprentice Boys of Derry. We accommodate the vast majority of the lodges, chapters, preceptories and clubs from these eight loyal orders in our halls. We also accommodate approximately 600 bands and, increasingly, a large number of community organisations which are not affiliated to the institution — believed to be about 1,500 at present.

We act in mutual support of our individual members and in their best interests. This includes defending their religious, cultural, heritage and political interests. We have a strong charitable network, which seeks to help our widows, orphans and students, but we also raise tens of thousands of pounds every year for outside charities, which benefit the whole community.

We believe strongly that the interest of our members in Northern Ireland is best served by remaining part of the United Kingdom and we would welcome the Republic of Ireland re-joining the Commonwealth, which, we believe, would bring the two communities in Ireland closer together without compromising the ideals of either community.

Why are we here today? The Loyal Orange Institution has two main motivations for accepting the offer to address the Senate today. First, as an all-island organisation, we see today's invitation as a formal recognition of our place in Irish society. For that we are very grateful. We regard this as a significant step, which will help to integrate our members in the Republic of Ireland into mainstream Irish civic society. Second, as an organisation, we want to contribute to the normalisation of relationships within these islands. We live in a world of change and while we are an organisation which places a high value on tradition, we recognise that we also have to change. Over the past seven years we have worked closely with Tourism Ireland to develop flagship parades and festivals on 12 July. We hope these will contribute to attracting more tourists to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Last autumn we were offered funding from the special European Union programmes board for our cross-Border STRIPE project. This project will contribute towards underpinning the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by building community capacity and developing cross-community engagement. I thank the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which is the accountable Department in the Republic of Ireland, for its support for this project. Currently, we are awaiting a final offer from the SEUPB to develop two museums and education resource centres, also with a view to engaging with the wider community. We hope that this work will help to dispel the myths which are so damaging to relationships between our communities.

We also have other projects in mind such as a genealogical index for which, we believe, we would have perhaps as many as 200,000 names. In modern terminology, our USP is that we can link all of those names to a tangible connection in Ireland so that for someone sitting in New Brunswick who discovers on that genealogical index that he has an ancestor who was member of LOL 616 in County Down, we can say there is a hall which he can visit, provide the name and contact details of the secretary, and tell him he is welcome to come and visit and spend his money in Ireland.

The future holds challenges for all of the individuals as well as the organisations represented here today. The Loyal Orange Institution has many challenges ahead — how do we share the Christian message contained in the Bible, enshrined in the great creeds of the church and the confessional statements of the Protestant churches in an increasingly militantly secular world; how should we play an appropriate part in civic society; what is our role in that society; how do we handle the long-standing and vexed issue of contentious parades; how do we relate to our fellow citizens who are to a greater or lesser extent opposed to those parades; how do we protect Protestant community rights of cultural expression; how do we engage with the decade of centenaries; and how do we ensure equality and availability of access for funding for Protestant cultural expression? All of these challenges are live issues for us as an organisation. We constantly seek to address them in a positive and appropriate way.

The first major anniversary in the decade of centenaries has passed. It was the Balmoral review in which we played a part with other members of the Unionist Centenary Committee. Because it was the first parade of the decade of centenaries, there was a spotlight on it. We are so delighted that that parade and event passed off entirely peacefully. Probably, most of the Senators never heard about it. If there had been one stone thrown or if there had been an untoward incident, they all would be aware of it. We hope that this has set the standard for the rest of the decade.

I also want to speak about the challenges for others as we move forward together. The Orange institution wants to see a normalisation of relationships. We believe that many of the relationships within these islands have been deeply skewed in the past by the burden of history about which I have already spoken. The 1916 Proclamation of the Republic declares its resolve to cherish "all the children of the nation equally". I have to say frankly that our experience of republicanism does not reflect that ideal. Both historically and in the recent past, the Protestant community has been on the receiving end of a sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism.

However, circumstances are always changing and three things, in particular, on this side of the Border have created a very positive climate which sets a good foundation for working towards that normalisation of relationships, namely the development of the visitors centre at the Boyne battlefield site; the funding of Cadolemo, our community development and capacity-building organisation, by the Irish Government; and the royal visit. I believe that these three things really were all done in the spirit of cherishing "all of the children of the nation equally".

On behalf of our members who live in the Republic, I have to say, however, that there are still further challenges ahead. The issue which gives rise to most concern for our members living in the Republic today is the funding cuts for Protestant schools. It is not too strong to say that, in the Border counties, the Protestant community fears for its continued survival as a viable, self-sustaining community. I appeal to the House today to take whatever steps are within its power to address that issue and reassure our members living in the Border counties.

The next challenge is much more difficult. Some 90% of the activities of our institution take place in private, but the activities which take place in public are very important to us. We are known mainly for parading and that is an important part of what we do. In the Republic, we have about 20 parades each year, but for reasons we all understand, these parades have been pushed to the margins of society. There has not been an Orange Order parade in a major town in the Republic since before the Troubles. One was planned in Dublin a few years ago, but it was unable to proceed. Our members in the Republic would welcome the opportunity to hold a parade in their capital city. However, as an institution we completely understand the challenges such a parade would pose. Our institution and the bands we support are the guardians of part of the intangible cultural heritage of not only Northern Ireland, but also the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps this is just a small part of the Republic of Ireland, but we claim our part. I believe that Ireland would be a poorer place if that cultural heritage disappeared. Therefore, my third challenge today is for the Government of the Republic of Ireland to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. I invite the Irish Government to consider this.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the Loyal Orange Institution wishes to move forward together with the Irish Government. If I have dwelt overlong today on explaining the position of our organisation, what makes it tick and what has influenced the outlook of our members, it is because I believe strongly that to move forward together it is important for you to understand our views. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's comments that he had a certain view of our organisation — which I expect derived mainly from the press — and that when we met his views developed. I want to put on record that we are committed to working positively with the Government, local councils, all other statutory agencies and appropriate non-governmental bodies to represent the concerns of our members. The grand master, the deputy grand master and our four county grand masters in the Republic of Ireland are all present here today to show their support for that commitment. Together, let us resolve that no longer will the burden of history stand in the way of normalisation of relationships.

Cathaoirleach, brethren of the Orange Order, ambassadors Rooney and Chilcott, distinguished guests and members, today Seanad Éireann extends the hand of friendship to the grand secretary and to the order he represents and to the traditions of religious freedom and good fellowship treasured by its members. In doing so we demonstrate that the past is not some dark prison in which we are doomed to be detained forever, but a series of events to which each generation should bring its own experience.

For far too long, my traditions saw the Orange Order through the distorting prism of a poorly understood past. In 1963, President Kennedy, addressing the joint session of the Oireachtas, quoted from a poem by John Boyle O'Reilly: "The world is large when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide." It is true that neither of our two traditions tried to walk the weary leagues that separated Dublin from Belfast. In the case of my tradition, we were too long fixated by what we saw as the exclusionary elements in the ethos of the Orange Order. Accordingly, we focused only on the anti-Jacobite part of the oath in the order's constitution, which read: "I do declare that I am not, nor ever was a Roman Catholic or Papist; that I was not, am not, or ever will be, a member of the society called the "United Irishmen"." That fixation meant we missed other core messages in the constitution of the Orange Order, messages which dwelt on the dignity of religious freedom, messages which expressed the Northern Protestant fear of isolation during the era of the great Catholic empires of Europe. These were fears that were often well-founded, just as people power used the inquisition to stifle independent inquiry and religious freedom. We also, I regret to admit, paid too little heed to the Orange Institute of Ireland statement: "its principle is, to aid and assist loyal subjects of every religious persuasion, by protecting them from violence and oppression."

Happily, in recent years, as the shadow of the gunmen was lifted from the island, both traditions began to recognise that the dogmas of the past were as dead as a dodo and that we needed fresh thinking to forge a fresh friendship. Slowly but steadily, we began to see that the Orange Order was, in the terms of the great Protestant patriot, Thomas Davis, "racy of the soil" and that for generations it had been the main cultural outlet for Protestants, artisans, small farmers and shopkeepers, the very same classes who formed and staffed the three main parties of the Irish democracy in this Republic.

Today, we can see that the values which inspire the Orange Order — community, solidarity and local patriotism — are the same values that inspired the Gaelic League and the GAA, the twin pillars of Nationalist Ireland. Seanad Éireann was set up to cherish these traditions and to ensure that the new State would provide a public platform for the voices of Protestant and dissenter. This, the Upper House of the Irish Legislature, was originally designed to give these cultural connections institutional form. The first Irish Senate that sat here between 1922 and 1937 made provision for 36 Catholics, 20 Protestants, three Quakers and one Jew. We can be reasonably sure that some of the 20 Protestants were Orangemen. Alas, we can also be sure that given the bigotry that bounded our thinking of the time, many members of the Orange Order in Seanad Éireann might have been slow to make their membership known.

However, at least one great Catholic writer, James Joyce, had no problem in praising the Order. In his novel Ulysses, Joyce has one of his characters challenge the tribal perceptions of his time. Being from Waterford, I probably do a Dublin accent as good as the grand secretary, but this is what Joyce’s character said: “Do you know that the orange lodges agitated for repeal of the union 20 years before O’Connell did or before the prelates of your communion denounced him as a demagogue. You fenians forget some things.” Indeed we do. This was Joyce’s roundabout way of saying that we have had invasion after invasion in our history, that Danes, Normans, English and Scots followed earlier migrations and became part of our soil, our blood and bone and learned to love this land of ours. The Scots settlers who came and cultivated the green fields of Ulster were our latest migration.

In honouring the grand secretary today, we also honour the Scots-Ulster tradition of hard work, plain speaking and the patriotism of place — so much shared history and so much common vulnerability. However, on this happy and historic day, we join hands as good neighbours to face the future together without fear, knowing today what we did not know as children that we must respect the past, but not be ruled by it — as if past generations have said the last word about Ireland. No, they have not said the last word. Neither my ancestors nor those of the grand secretary must have the last word. We together must seize the opportunity to speak for our generation and say what is our hearts and minds. I know the grand secretary will agree that what is in all our minds is a desire for good, a desire for a decent living for our people and, above all, a profound desire for peace with our neighbours on this small island.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the Orange Order for one great gift that has been passed down through the generations. Some of the earliest translations of the Bible into Irish came from Irish Protestant pens. These Irish languages Bibles are carefully cherished by the order, and I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Nelson for that care.

It is appropriate that I should conclude with a biblical reference which offers a note of solidarity and common purpose. The apostle Paul tells us that from one spirit we are all baptised into one body, whether we be Jew or Gentile, bond or free, and where one member of that body suffers, we all suffer. That truth was stated in secular form by another powerful preacher, the great trade union leader Jim Larkin, who did so much for workers in the Belfast and Dublin, in his famous slogan, "An injury to one is the concern of all". In that spirit of solidarity, let us pledge that whatever the future holds, be they happy times or hard times, we will not be strangers to one another on this small island. In the spirit of Mr. Nelson's order and the Bible that inspires its members, let us behave like brothers or, as the grand secretary would say, like brethren. Ar son mo chomhghleacaithe i Seanad Éireann agus mar Cheannaire an Tí inniu, cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe go léir.

I acknowledge the presence of Ambassadors Chilcott and Rooney and of three former Members of this House, Maurice Hayes, Eoghan Harris and Jim Ruttle. On this important and historic day, I am pleased to welcome the grand secretary, Mr. Drew Nelson, the grand master, Mr. Stephenson, and the other distinguished guests from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend a warm welcome. As Mr. Nelson observed, my party is a republican party but its republicanism has always been constitutional.

Mr. Nelson's thought-provoking address included a reference to the funding difficulties facing Church of Ireland and other Protestant schools in the Republic. It is an issue I have raised on several occasions in this Chamber. If it is to be a true republic, a country must cherish its minorities in a manner that allows them to flourish. It is very rarely that I mention my wife in the House, but I will do so on this occasion. Being from a Church of Ireland background, she has instilled some of her thinking into my own views. As the Leader observed, many of us are from backgrounds of shared faiths. I respect all faiths, as does Mr. Nelson.

We have moved on to a remarkable degree, North and South, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. For the Grand Secretary to be addressing us here today is a vital further step in that progress. I agree with Mr. Nelson's comments regarding the burden of history and acknowledge the many grave wrongs done to the Protestant community throughout this country. We all share the burden of history and there are victims on all sides. We must all look forward to the future together as we seek peacefully to share this small island of little more than 5 million people. People on both parts of the island and from both traditions are struggling with the same problems and concerns on a daily basis. While recognising our shared traditions, we should also acknowledge that our diversity makes us a better people.

Last year saw the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to this State. Most people welcomed this as a significant event for the people of the Republic, indeed for all people on this island. As Mr. Nelson acknowledged, it showed that we are moving towards a normalisation of relationships whereby we can welcome our neighbours, respect our differences and learn from each other. That is what today is about. Mr. Nelson's address was very thought provoking and did not pull any punches. I particularly welcome his acknowledgement that the atrocities which took place in the past did not have the support of the vast majority of people in the Republic. There was suffering on all sides but now is the time to move on. The visit by Mr. Nelson and his colleagues is an important step in that direction. The next step, I propose, would be for us to receive delegations on the issue raised by Mr. Nelson regarding the funding of Protestant schools in the State. It is a cause of grave concern to many that 75% of all rural schools affected by the reductions in funding are Protestant. That is not something we support.

We can learn from the tradition of the Orange Order. It is an important part of Irish society and Irish life. Many of the points Mr. Nelson made regarding the role the order plays in so many communities apply equally to the GAA. I look forward to the day when both of these great traditions — the true republican tradition and the Unionist tradition — can celebrate together. I look forward specifically to the day when, in agreement with the citizens of this city, we will see an Orange parade on the streets of Dublin, with people walking together in a non-triumphalist way and respecting each other's views. That would prove we really are neighbours and brothers, sharing this island in peace and seeking to work together for the good of all the people.

While recognising the significant progress that has been made, we must look to the work that remains to be done. The attendance of the Grand Secretary and his colleagues in the Chamber today is an important step in the road. I hope it is merely the beginning of a process of engagement and not simply a once-off event. We have a great deal to learn from each other. On behalf of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, I welcome Mr. Drew most sincerely and warmly. I look forward to our further engagements this afternoon.

I welcome the distinguished visitors and ambassadors to the House. As leader of the Labour Party group and Deputy Leader of the Seanad, I am very pleased to welcome the grand secretary on this historic occasion, the first visit by a member of the Orange Order to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is very good to see him and his colleagues in the Chamber. I do not see any Orangewomen among the Orangemen, but I look forward to welcoming sisters as well as brothers in the future.

As the Leader observed, the Seanad is ideally suited to the role of seeking to further the interests of peace and reconciliation on this island. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Senator Martin McAleese who has played such a significant role in ensuring this visit took place. Senator Cummins referred to the origins of this Seanad in the Irish Free State Senate which was set up specifically to ensure a disproportionately high representation for members of minority faiths on the island. Indeed, if one looks further back to the Home Rule Bills of the 1880s in which an Upper House was first proposed, one again sees the intention to ensure an inclusivity of traditions in the Upper House. We are honouring that important tradition today. I am proud to have been elected to this House to represent the graduates of the University of Dublin from North and South and elsewhere in the world. There are many graduates of Trinity College from both communities in Northern Ireland and I have had great pleasure in visiting some of them. I see the same spirit of inclusivity in this House in that we have a disproportionate representation for graduates of what was traditionally the Protestant university. This Seanad, the 24th, has instituted a 30-second silence, which Mr. Nelson and his colleagues will have noted took place before the Christian prayer in both Irish and English. The purpose of this initiative is to recognise and acknowledge those Members who are not of the Christian faith.

In welcoming Mr. Nelson and his colleagues, we should not take an uncritical approach which seeks to leave aside any acknowledgement of the differences that have arisen in the past. Many people in the Labour Party and other parties have been very critical of the historic role of the Orange Order. The Cathaoirleach mentioned that many of us would, in the past, have seen the organisation as one which used intimidatory tactics, with the shadow of Drumcree and other parades looming large. I shared the misgivings of many people in my party and other parties when the prospect of Mr. Nelson's visit to the House was first raised. Many of us have had those same misgivings. It is honest and straightforward to acknowledge that today. It is also honest and straightforward to acknowledge that many of us have a difficulty with some of the internal rules of the Orange Order. However, leaving that aside, this visit must be seen as a step towards greater recognition and understanding of different traditions, roles and organisations.

When listening to Mr. Nelson's speech, I was struck by the idea of Orange parades and festivals as having a cultural tourism significance. There would be a very different perception of parades in that context as part of a Tourism Ireland approach. It is long past time that we left the past behind and moved forward from the intimidation that went on in both communities in Northern Ireland and that in the name of all the victims of the Troubles we seek to takes steps towards reconciliation.

Senator Jimmy Harte, a Labour Senator from Donegal, told me that in the 1940s and 1950s in Raphoe, the Orange band shared musical instruments with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and that there was a give and take and communal working together between them, with the Ancient Order of Hibernians helping to teach pipers in the Orange Order. Perhaps reconciliation and peaceful accommodation have a longer tradition than we might think.

Mr. Nelson mentioned the current issue of Protestant schools. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who is a member of the Labour Party, has taken huge steps towards ensuring greater pluralism in the patronage of primary schooling on this island, a process which I know many members of different faiths are excited and enthusiastic about. I believe we will see changes in patronage of primary schools as a result of that process.

On behalf of the Labour group, it gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the role of the Seanad in helping us to take these historic steps towards greater peace and reconciliation on this island. We are now at a point where we are looking for common ground and things that can be shared between the different traditions and faiths on the island, North and South. It is in that spirit that we welcome Mr. Nelson here, in the hope that we can make history less of a burden and more of an asset for all of us and that we can share common ground while acknowledging the concerns about the ground we do not yet share.

I would like first to acknowledge the presence of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, and Ambassadors Chilcott and Rooney in the Chamber.

I join other speakers in warmly welcoming the grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Mr. Drew Nelson, to this House. I also welcome the delegation led by the grand master, Mr. Edward Stevenson, and, in particular, the county grand masters from Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim whom I got to know well over the past number of years.

The words of welcome expressed by all party leaders today are words which many could never have imagined would ever be uttered, words we have waited for, more in hope than anything else, through recent history to now. I was struck by the opening remarks of the Cathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, regarding his background and previous perceptions of the Orange Order. My upbringing was very different from that of the Cathaoirleach. It was a long way from rural County Mayo to what was then the industrial heartland of east Belfast. However, we had one thing in common, namely, as a child and young person I, too, had little knowledge of the Orange Order. That is not to say that I had no contact with them. Growing up in loyalist east Belfast as part of a minority Catholic family in a predominantly Protestant area, I recall from my earliest days seeing men with bowler hats, sashes and banners every marching season. My overriding memory is one of feeling threatened by that sight and of dreading the marching season every year.

That fear of the Orange Order persisted for many years. It did not begin to fade until after Mary had been elected President and we began engaging with the order as part of the realisation of the theme of her presidency of building bridges. Through personal contacts with the order, North and South — Mr. Nelson was a key contact in this regard — I gained another perspective on the Orange Order. We worked together, tentatively at first and, as our relationship developed, comfortably and to good effect, in particular in dealing with some issues concerning the lodges in the South. The grand secretary has already alluded to some of those issues in his address. Members of the Orange Order were invited every 12th of July for 14 years to Áras an Uachtaráin. Mary was the first and only President of Ireland to visit an Orange hall, Brakey Hall, County Cavan, close to Bailieboro, where she received a great welcome.

This exchange of is of huge historic significance. I never thought I or my children would live to see it. However, it is happening, which is a real symbol of the ongoing development of the peace process. We seem to be living through one of those iconic periods where historic events tumble one after another. A mere five years ago, who would have thought that the Queen would visit and be so well received in Ireland, that she would visit Croke Park and shake hands with Martin McGuinness, that the leader of the DUP, Mr. Peter Robinson, would attend mass for a murdered PSNI officer and would also attend this year's McKenna Cup final between Derry and Tyrone in the athletic grounds in Armagh or that a representative of the Orange Order would address Seanad Éireann? Just as the decade 1912-1922 changed the course of Irish history, bedding down estrangement, suspicion and mistrust, I hope that the decade 2012-2022 will ultimately be regarded as the transformative years during which different traditions were reconciled, bonds of friendship and trust were developed and an enduring peace was established. Generations yet to come will consider this visit part of that changing landscape. I suppose historians will pore over the transcripts of today.

The grand secretary was frank in his comments and rightly so. We need robust exchanges that identify rather than gloss over the real differences between our traditions. It is hoped these exchanges will enable us to recognise, accept and respect our differences and to regard that diversity as a resource to be utilised for the common good. Mr. Nelson, in his presentation, stated: "While we want to remember 1690, we do not want to live in it." None of us can afford to live in the past. Our challenge is to construct a better future. What can we do and what risks can we take together to achieve this? If one can imagine Ireland 25 years from now what would one see?

I again welcome Mr. Nelson to the Seanad. Thank you.

Go raibh míle maith agat. On behalf of the Independent University Senators, I, too, wish to be associated with the welcome to the Grand Secretary, Mr. Nelson, and to all of our distinguished guests here today. I am particularly honoured to speak after Senator McAleese. I do not believe there is anybody in this House who does not feel deep gratitude to our former President Mary McAleese and Senator McAleese for all their work in public and in private over the past number of years to make this day and many other such days possible. Ár mbuíochas leo i gcónaí.

I am happy to address the grand secretary on behalf of the Independent University Senators, including three Senators from Trinity College. Senator Sean Barrett, who is present today, reminded me that the first Orange lodge in Dublin was founded in Trinity College Dublin. He also reminded me — the original source for this story is no less a weathervane of contemporary culture than Fr. Brian D'Arcy — that at a recent funeral in rural Fermanagh the sandwich making duties in the wake house were shared between the GAA and the Orange Order, which in its own way tells us how far we have come. I am glad to say we will not be relying them on for lunch today.

As has been stated by many others, this is a significant time. We are two years into what has been termed the decade of commemorations on our island. Hardly a decade passes without some element of our often fractious past being due for commemoration. However, this decade is obviously particularly special and sensitive. It is a credit to community leaders on all sides that we have a more mature phase of negotiated settlement and power-sharing.

We meet today in the shadow of a history that has shaped our island but, as others have said, we are not bound to repeat the past. We can all remember the powerful words of Queen Elizabeth II last year in Dublin Castle when she said we can bow to history but not be bound by it. This is the key message of our times, that we can respect cultures and traditions but not allow the past they represent to chart our future. This does not mean we have reached the end of history. Rather, it is a new phase which no doubt will be fraught with its own difficulties and challenges, but critically we will meet them together.

I was particularly touched by what Mr. Nelson had to say about his cherished Protestant traditions. He spoke of faith and fraternity. He also spoke about the increasingly militantly secular world in which we find ourselves. I think, and I hope Mr. Nelson will agree with me — I am sure he does — that it has never been more important we have fraternity between people of faith. One of the most pleasant moments since I was elected to the Seanad was the day when an old friend, a lecturer in engineering from my days in NUI Galway, a Protestant from Portadown, brought in his friend, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Reverend Dr. Stafford Carson. We had a wonderful conversation and we discovered and realised, as we probably already knew, we had so many shared ideals and values, perhaps it is something about people of faith being able to make an optimistic proposal to the wider humanity about how the true dignity of each individual person and genuine freedom can be secured so that all can participate in the goods of society in a manner that is never oppressive and always inclusive. Mr. Nelson will have heard our moment of silence adverted to by Senator Bacik. This silence allows people of all faiths and none to approach their legislative duties in a reflective spirit. He will also have heard our prayer, which is something his tradition and the majority tradition to which most of us Senators were born can cherish equally.

As Senator McAleese stated, there is something about the need for us to be absolutely true to where we are coming from, that our accommodation can never be about dumbing down differences and rather that we reach to the deep wells of decency we all have. This is particularly true of the great Christian traditions. It is in these deep Christian traditions that we can find so much with which we can work together and, as I stated, present something positive and optimistic to our country and community. This tradition is never just about identifying rights but is also about identifying our obligations to each other. It is about not being able to use the term love, that love must be at the heart of the relationships we seek to create with each other.

These islands have been linked by repeated cross-currents of human settlement. During the fifth to the eighth centuries Scotland was invaded by Gaels from Ireland, the Anglo-Saxons from the continent and the Norse from Scandinavia. Scotland was largely converted to Christianity by Irish Scots missions associated with figures such as St. Columba from the fifth to the seventh centuries. These missions founded monastic institutions and collegiate churches which served large areas and spread literacy and a culture of learning. We share all of this tradition and beautiful heritage. In comparatively modern times we saw the plantation of Ulster, with settlers from Scotland and England under James I of England and VI of Scotland in 1609 and we share all of this history.

The point is that the strand of culture and history that makes up the modern tapestry of Northern Ireland involves a cultural exchange, through force at times but also through osmosis, and this is what has made us who we are today, shaped and moulded by a shared history. It is against this background we welcome Mr. Nelson with sincere hearts. The Orange Order he represents was founded in the crucible of inter-communal conflict in the late 18th century in Armagh but has come to represent for many members of the Protestant and Unionist community an important cultural institution. While the focus has often been inevitably on contentious parades, not so well publicised are the many efforts by Orangemen and their lodges in helping the local community, as Mr. Nelson rightly mentioned and reminded us. District lodges do considerable work to raise funds for local charities and good causes through collections, donations and fund-raising efforts.

What cannot be overlooked is that for many people in Northern Ireland the Orange Order represents a different era of political discrimination and civil rights abuses. As has been stated, the future must be about moving beyond the politics of identity. The challenge for the Orange Order in the new situation is to be a force for better understanding. This is the same challenge that faces the GAA and church organisations. We live on a small island and shared spaces have led to animosity. Accommodation requires a new mindset on both sides of the Border. Like many Irish people I was disgusted by the violence that marred the love Ulster parade in Dublin a number of years ago. The need for understanding and respect for cultural differences is not something unique to the Orange Order. In the Republic we must also make renewed efforts to respect the shared cultures that occupy our island. In doing more to foster true understanding of the past and ensuring culture is not a barrier to understanding and shared values, Mr. Nelson's visit to the House is important and a welcome step in making the term "cross-community" a reality and not just a phrase. He is very welcome. Cuirim céad míle fáilte romhat. Go mbeannaí Dia thú agus do chomhluadar uilig anois agus i gcónaí.

As leader of the Sinn Féin group in the House I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, former Members of the House, ambassadors, members of the Orange Order from throughout the island of Ireland and its grand secretary, Mr. Nelson. He is very welcome to the Seanad today.

This is an historic occasion. It is the first time the Orange Order has addressed the Oireachtas. It is also the first public and direct engagement between a member of my party and the Orange Order and this is also significant and is to be welcomed. As a republican I believe the Orange Order is an important organisation. It is part of what we are as a nation. It would be an understatement for me to say the relationship between republicans and my party and the Orange Order is not what it should be. We must build on the dialogue which has been the bedrock of the peace process.

The point made by the grand secretary on the engagement today being an opportunity to act as a springboard to the future is one with which I warmly agree. This future must be underpinned by mutual respect, equality and tolerance. I also accept as a republican that members of the Orange Order have been hurt by republicans as a consequence of the conflict. Equally, members of my community have been hurt and have suffered at the hands of some of the organisations mentioned by Mr. Nelson in his contribution. However, we cannot always be prisoners of the past. We must look to the future and we must build a better future for all of us. I genuinely believe that dialogue is the best way to resolve issues. While I refute the claim that the republican movement, as it was put, was responsible for the burning of Orange halls I strongly condemn any such actions by any members of any community. Burning Orange halls is wrong and is anti-republican in my view. It is sectarian and should be challenged.

We all face challenges to resolve the issue of what are deemed contentious marches and parades. I have no difficulty as a republican in accepting that Orangemen have a right to parade. However, I also believe those communities through which the Orange Order seeks to march have rights also. Dialogue, which was so important to the peace process, is the best way to achieve this. I encourage the grand secretary to build on today as an opportunity to engage in direct dialogue with the residents' associations and representatives of those communities through which the Orange Order seeks to march, and build on the success of what happened in Derry when the Apprentice Boys engaged in direct dialogue, because this is the future.

We all want to build a better Ireland for all of us. We have had many significant and historic moments over the course of recent months, all of which are important in their own right. I warmly welcome Mr. Nelson for this very important engagement. On behalf of my party I also extend a warm invitation and welcome to members of the Orange Order from throughout the island of Ireland. I look forward to continuous engagement between representatives of my party and Mr. Nelson's organisation.

Perhaps Mr. Nelson would like to respond to some of the points that have been made.

Mr. Drew Nelson

I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me an opportunity to respond to Senators. I realised this morning that the Oireachtas has three Houses, the third of which is Áras an Uachtaráin. We have received at least 14 previous invitations to visit Áras an Uachtaráin, but this is the first time we have been invited to Leinster House. I want to pay tribute to the efforts of President McAleese and Senator McAleese in issuing those invitations, which started to open the lines of communication in a formal way and led to what is happening today. The two university representatives who spoke are welcome to inspect our membership books for Trinity College LOL. One of the signatures in the books shows that Isaac Butt was a member. Senators might be surprised to learn that Seán O'Casey was a member of the Orange institution for some time. Perhaps most of them knew that already. Maybe none of them knew.

Senator McAleese asked me to speak about what things will be like 25 years from now. It is not pretty. I honestly think we are moving into a time when the power of the nation-state will decline. There will be more links between states. The Irish Republic will probably be a member of the Commonwealth by that time. The most worrying thing is that we will see more poverty. The balance of economic power in the world is going to move east. It is happening every day. It could be seen yesterday when it was announced that 260 jobs at FG Wilson, which is the largest manufacturer in Belfast, are to move to China. I think people will probably have a lower standard of living than they have had for the last 25 years. I am one of the lucky generation. The best year to be born in the United Kingdom was 1948. Those born in that year have enjoyed the benefits of the National Health Service throughout their lives. When they got a job, it was probably a job for life. They have been able to avail of early retirement opportunities and good pensions. None of those is guaranteed into the future, with the possible exception of the National Health Service.

The employment and economic prospects of the generation of people who are now in their teens and their 20s are nothing like what they were for most of my generation. I have mentioned some of the challenges to be faced by civic society in Ireland, such as the development of relationships with the Protestant community and with the Orange institution. Those challenges are minuscule — they are nothing — compared with what needs to be done to ensure those who are currently in their teens and their 20s will be able to have a decent standard of living. I am not a political prophet — it would be a foolish and short-lived occupation to engage in — but I honestly think the next 25 years are going to be more difficult for Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and western Europe. As economic issues come to the fore and economies depend on each other to an increasing extent, more co-operation will be needed. I expect that the constitutional difficulties which have plagued relationships within Ireland for over 100 years will assume less importance and the economic difficulties I have alluded to will assume more importance. As one set of problems faced by the communities within these islands subsides, another set of problems will emerge.

On behalf of the delegation from the Orange institution that is here today, I thank everyone for hearing us so politely and graciously. I thank the Senators who have made contributions, some of which were quite frank. When I was down here last week and when I met the Cathaoirleach previously, I said there was no point in coming here for an exercise in back-slapping or issuing platitudes. There are problems. It is not right to brush them under the carpet. I appreciate what people have said about the difficulties and challenges that exist. I hope this will be part of an ongoing engagement. Our members in the Republic are still there. They continue to have problems. I do not doubt that new ones will arise. We will wish to articulate those problems and the views of our members to civic society in Ireland.

I will now call on the Leas-Chathaoirleach to propose a vote of thanks to the visiting group.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to propose a vote of thanks to the grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Mr. Drew Nelson. I thank him for the sincere and thought-provoking contribution he made in the House today. It is important for me to acknowledge the presence of the grand master, Mr. Edward Stevenson, and the deputy grand master, Rev. Alistair Smyth. The British ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Dominick Chilcott, is also most welcome here. We are very honoured to have him present. The US ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Dan Rooney, is also in attendance. A former Senator and colleague, Dr. Maurice Hayes, is also in the Visitors' Gallery. I also welcome the following: the County Donegal grand master, Mr. David Mahon; the County Monaghan grand master, Mr. Robert Sturgeon; the County Cavan grand master, Mr. Henry Latimer; the County Leitrim grand master, Mr. Joe Morton; the public relations officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Mr. Austin Hunter; and Rev. John Deane from County Donegal.

I will conclude these brief remarks by mentioning some historic connections with south-west Cork, which I represent. I refer particularly to the famous Doheny's club in Dunmanway. I am proud to acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of Ms Dorothy Beamish and her two sons, Keith and Roy. They are very welcome. Many people might not be aware of a small bit of important history. The grand secretary who is in attendance and who has been made most welcome has a west Cork connection that is worth putting on the record. I understand that his grandfather, Mr. Frank George Beamish, came from the townland of Acres near Dunmanway. There are still relations there. I understand that a photograph of this gentleman continues to adorn the old family home. He was the principal of the Model School in Dunmanway. He was appointed a national school staff inspector in 1912. He had six children — two girls and four boys. One of his sons, George Beamish, was a famous rugby player and a flight lieutenant with the RAF. Another son, Victor Beamish, was also an RAF flight lieutenant. Many of their relations are still living in Acres near Dunmanway. I understand — I am subject to correction — that one of the Beamishes played international rugby.

Frank George Beamish is buried in a family plot at St. Mary's church, which is still being used to this day. A famous Irish patriot, Sam Maguire, is buried in the second next plot to the Beamish plot, where the grand secretary's grandfather is buried. I hope my county will lift the Sam Maguire cup on the third Sunday of September. We have a rugby connection, a GAA connection and a west Cork connection. Could there be a better way of concluding my vote of thanks than by acknowledging the strength and depth of the historic connections in the area where I live? We have lived peacefully with our Protestant neighbours in the area for many years. I am pleased to say that the Model School was refurbished substantially in the last decade, thanks to the Fianna Fáil Government of the time. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach's county might not win the all-Ireland. I call the Leader of the House.

I will not even respond to the last comment. I thank Mr. Drew Nelson for coming here. This historic visit will help us to have a greater understanding of our differences and the common practices we share. Let us hope that today's visit will be seen as a small step in furthering the reconciliation and understanding we need on this island.

Mr. Nelson is most welcome. We hope to see him again in the near future.

Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.10 p.m.