The Orange Order has voted to cut links with the Ulster Unionist Council, the ruling body of David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party.
The Order, an openly sectarian anti-Catholic organisation, helped to found the party, which is marking its 100th anniversary.
In a statement, the Order said today’s motion to disaffiliate stemmed from the restructuring of the UUP. In order to maintain an official link with the UUP, the Order would have to make what it regarded as impracticable changes to its constitution.
Grand Master Robert Saulters said: “The Loyal Orange Institution will continue to lobby for the unionist cause as events require, and we will seek to establish good relationships with all those engaged in the political interests of the unionist people.”
Senior Orangeman and Ulster Unionist member Tom Haire is one of those who supported the split.
“I recognise that the UUP isn’t the lead party at the present time. A lot of our members don’t agree with the views of the UUP now. I see no problem with it.”
“We recognise that all our members have a right to vote according to their conscience.”
East Belfast Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers, also an Orangeman, said: “It is a sad and serious day and I fear it is going to have widespread repercussions.”
The hardline Orange block vote on the Ulster Unionist Council was a long source of controversy through the party’s upheavals following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
This weekend’s decision represents a further splitting between Ulster Unionist moderates, led by David Trimble, and hardliners led by Jeffrey Donaldson, who has since joined Ian Paisley’s DUP.